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EDITORIAL: Government pornography ring

TSA’s obscene airport scanners get a pass from the courts

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The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced Wednesday that computerized fig leaves would be applied to the images produced by X-rated x-ray scanners in airports. The agency was forced to beat a partial retreat from its "all nude, all the time" position after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit insisted on the change in a July 15 ruling that also found TSA violated the Administrative Procedures Act by rushing the machines into service without adequate scrutiny or public notice.

Travelers across the country are being forced into contraptions that use a form of radiation to peer beneath the clothing of passengers. Currently, TSA agents ogle these snapshots from the privacy of a secluded location. Under the new scheme, the machine will still perform the electronic strip search, but only a computer algorithm will be allowed to enjoy the peep show. In theory, software will examine the pictures and flag areas of potential interest. It's up to the flying public to trust that the devices will not save the underlying pornographic images that will still be taken. Given the agency's history of deceiving the public, such trust would be misplaced.

In fact, the Department of Homeland Security itself seeks to sow seeds of distrust with its "If you see something, say something" campaign. The program features a video portraying all white males as potential terrorists and encourages the reporting to the government of any "suspicious activity." This recalls the system of denunciation favored by totalitarian regimes to identify and rid the state of undesirables.

This obsession with political correctness and refusal to identify Islamic extremism as the source of terrorism is the reason grandmothers and little girls are subjected to scrutiny that in other contexts merit felony charges. Unfortunately, the federal appeals court sees no problem with this and believes labeling it an "administrative search" exempts TSA from complying with the Fourth Amendment.

In arriving at this conclusion, the judges cite the Supreme Court's misguided precedent authorizing suspicionless roadblocks that purportedly combat drunk driving. Intruding on the fundamental right to travel is justified by the "balancing test" the judiciary frequently breaks out when it wants to expand government power. "That balance clearly favors the government here," the judges concluded in reference to the naked scanners.

Unfortunately, the D.C. court is sacrificing essential liberty for a safety placebo. The machines are easily fooled by those who know the principles upon which they work. The devices were rammed into service because of a sophisticated lobbying campaign, not because of their inherent utility. In addition to the private companies who profit from supplying the machines, the unions swelled their ranks from the new hires required for their operation.

If nude photography and intimate groping are acceptable on balance, there's no telling what sort of indignity would constitute going too far in the court's mind. As long as the government asserts "it's for your own good," the federal bench has no problem in adopting tactics long-favored by history's most repressive nations.

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