Ten years after Sept. 11, 2001, Americans continue adjusting to evolving Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport safety procedures. While there is a limit to what Americans can reasonably expect TSA to accomplish to reduce the risk of terrorist attempts in an open society, there is also a limit to what TSA can reasonably expect a free people to tolerate.
At TSA security checkpoints, I used to seek the fastest-moving line. Now, I search for a line without a body scanner. Seeing no such line on a recent trip, I cued up, placed my carry-on possessions and articles of clothing onto the conveyor that moves items through X-ray and waited for the dreaded words, “Ma’am, step into the body scanner.” “No,” I replied.
Glancing at me with blatant annoyance, the TSA agent shouted, “Female pat-down!” Another TSA agent ordered me into a portable room enclosure. As I stepped inside the room, I noticed a sign taped to the door reminding TSA personnel, “Do not lock the door.” My anxiety grew as the TSA agent toyed with the lock, oddly pushing the button in and out numerous times, provoking my request for a supervisor. The supervisor arrived - a big supervisor. Big mistake. I assumed having a witness was to my benefit. I was wrong.
The supervisor immediately stated it was my “fault” I was getting a pat-down. She contemptuously added, “This was your choice.” Since I have cause for avoiding a body scanner that delivers radiation, I did not view the pat-down as my choice; but rather, the only course available in order to travel by commercial airline.
The pat-down became so invasive I voiced an objection. The TSA supervisor sneered, “Everyone gets treated the same.” But, not everyone was getting a two-against-one pat-down behind a closed door. I asked the TSA agent if she thought I looked like a terrorist (wasn’t that supposed to be the point of all this?). That is when she threatened to turn me over to the police if I uttered one more word and she “guaranteed” the police would treat me worse than TSA did. Whatever I might say later, it would be the testimony of two TSA agents against mine. I took her at her word and silently submitted to the remainder of her groping.
In “The Road to Serfdom,” F.A. Hayak warned England and America in the aftermath of World War II that the increasing tendency of a central government to use administrative coercion to control citizens is incompatible with preserving a free society. Once a population internalizes that authorities have the power to coerce, few will experience actual coercion because passive submission avoids it. Excessive government control ultimately leads to a psychological change in the people of a nation.
In “Star Trek,” there is a collective of life forms called the “Borg,” which assimilates species. When the Borg temporarily assimilates Captain Picard, he tells his crew on the Starship Enterprise that life as they have known it is over; going forward, they will serve the Borg. He declares, “Resistance is futile.”
As a Daughter of the American Revolution, my lineage includes an ancestor who fought for our independence from a coercive tyranny. Today, we gradually surrender our freedoms to an insatiable federal government that feeds on our hard-earned dollars to accumulate more power to control our lives while eroding our liberties. If we silently acquiesce to expanding federal government power that diminishes our rights as set forth in the U.S. Constitution, we are complicit in creating a society as oppressive as the one from which our forefathers chose to separate. Americans have a constitutional right to travel freely without unreasonable constraints. The Privileges and Immunities Clause of the U.S. Constitution governs freedom of movement in America. The Supreme Court recognizes freedom of movement as similar to our First Amendment rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression.
Balancing national security interests with our rights to freedom and privacy have been central to public debate about our federal government’s response to Sept. 11. Americans know federal solutions to societal problems are often flawed and require ongoing public scrutiny. What starts with one objective can morph into unintended consequences. As questionable TSA-related incidents continue to be reported from across the county, Americans have cause to ask whether TSA could implement other viable, effective airline security methods less pernicious or coercive.
Gail A. Jaquish is a founder of the Jaquish & Kenninger Foundation and of Jurix. She is a member of the Hoover Institution Board of Overseers and a former vice chairman of the U.S. Air Force Academy Board of Visitors.