The so-called Body Scanner that the TSA is itching to install in airports is among the sleaziest infringements on our right to privacy that I've ever seen from a government agency. It represents the limits of privacy I'm willing to give up in return for my security. I don't have anything to hide and I'm willing to allow that the government should have some intrusive snooping abilities as part of its job to security the general populace. Want to listen for keywords on my phone conversations? Fine. Want to take pictures of me from outer space? Go right ahead. Search my bags. Swab my clothes. Let your dogs and your machines sniff me to your heart's content.
"Excuse me sir, but I'm going to have to see you naked."
[Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]
What the what?!?! Are you kidding me? I can only imagine a cadre of backscatter x-ray technicians holed up in a basement lab somewhere snickering to themselves. I'm sure they can't believe we fell for their plan.
Step 1: We tell them we've invented the ultimate airport x-ray scanner, but really it’s a machine that lets us take naked x-ray pictures through peoples' clothes. We'll call it a "Body Scanner." Nobody say naked x-ray pictures any more.
Step 2: You aren't safe unless there is a naked x-ra. . . err, Body Scanner device installed at every airport.
Step 3: We're going to need to keep some of these nake. . . Body Scans. You know, for testing purposes.
Step 4: Hey buddy, wanna buy some Body Scans? Check out our introductory offer of $24.95 for 1 month, or get a full year for $14.95 per month. We will bill your card automatically.
When did it come to this? When did the TSA go from comic fodder so extreme that only my father-in-law would resort to airport security jokes, to the guys who get to see us naked before we get on a plane?
What's next, strip searching students in schools? Well, one school already tried that and got knocked down pretty hard in an 8-1 Supreme Court decision. But we're expected to trust our local travel security agent more than we trust our children's teachers. So, all of a sudden the TSA is our most intimate protector. It's almost too ridiculous to imagine.
I know that there are plenty of folks who don't think this is a big deal. We're all the same under our clothes. We shouldn't care if some anonymous shmoe can oggle our kibbles and bits. For the sake of our security, it's a reasonable transgression.
Here's my advice for that crowd. To help speed up security for everyone, feel free to remove all of your clothing before you even get to the airport. That way, you won't have to remove your shoes or belt buckles for the security gate. If you set off a metal detector, they won't hesitate to believe you have a steel plate in your head. Plus, I could almost guarantee that you wouldn't get picked for a random pat-down, either. If you don't carry a laptop, imagine how fast you could breeze through the checkpoint!
We could go to great lengths to be completely safe in this country. I really believe that if we gave up nearly every freedom we have, our government could assure us that we would be free from others harming us. But that's not the way we would want to live our lives. That's a dystopian nightmare. There's always a balance to be struck, and in the middle of every balance is a fulcrum. There's a point where we start to tilt from one side to the other. There's a point where we say: "This level of security is not worth what we're giving up."
For me, it's when the folks at the security checkpoint get to take nude pictures of me and keep them for later. That's where I draw the line.
Do I have something to be embarrassed about? Who doesn't? My point is that it's going too far. Nudity, in our society, is practically the definition of going too far. When you're at a party, or hanging out on the street, and somebody naked walks by, you know that things have finally gone too far. Television can try to be more risqué, but the minute Janet Jackson gets naked at a football game, things have gone too far.
I have no problem with people who want to be naked in private. I'm not being a prude, I'm just living within the context upon which we've all agreed. Slowly but surely we're moving towards a society more accepting of nudity divorced from sexuality. But right now, nudity represents boundaries in our society; boundaries of taste and boundaries of privacy. Once we've crossed the line with nudity, where do we go next?
Is our security worth the sacrifice? I know that it's selfish for me to answer. I fly a few times a year. Not enough to earn elite status, for sure. If something terrible happens on a plane, the odds are great that it won't be on my plane. It will be someone else. I can argue until I'm blue in the, um, well that's none of your business, but I can argue for my own privacy over our collective security. That argument won't hold water with victims or families who succumb to tragedy. Try telling a plane full of people that you're sorry for whatever misery befell them. At least the TSA didn't get to check out my boxers.
There's the slippery slope. When is our privacy, our personal freedom, worth someone else's life? Individually, perhaps never. But collectively, people fight and die for our rights and freedoms every day. We each draw our line in the sand and say we won't cross it, and then we cross it again and again and keep drawing a new line. But eventually we run out of sand.
Here's the bottom line, though. There must be a better way. Different equipment, better training, some way to make sure that we don't compromise our safety by insisting on our privacy.