Editorials | Opinions
|Airport Security Pat-Downs are Grotesque|
Heather Mallick - Toronto Star
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November 24, 2010
“You touch my junk, and I’ll have you arrested” is a howl for liberty.
Admittedly, as a rallying cry for the rights of the individual it’s hardly on a par with “Let freedom ring” or even Alfred Hitchcock’s “I’m not against the police, I’m just afraid of them.” Nevertheless American traveller John Tyner’s declaration as his crotch was fondled by a jumped-up security guard at San Diego airport was on the money.
Something has gone terribly wrong if you can’t get on a plane without your unspeakables being stroked by the plastic-gloved hands of a paid stranger.
By 2002, “If I can’t wear my gun in the shower, then the terrorists have won” was already a running gag. But as the holiday travel season approaches, it can truly be said that the terrorists didn’t just win when Americans panicked over the first aerial attack they had ever experienced. They triumphed. Americans, and Canadians, long ago handed over their brains and caution. Now they’re coming for our bits and pieces.
Passengers who get felt up should charge the airlines a baggage-handling fee. The bullies and cowards who run government security — I mean you, Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews and U.S. Transportation Security Administration chief John Pistole — should be ashamed of themselves for saying that passengers can choose to walk through full-body scanners instead. In a world so packed with medical information that I cannot disregard it despite my efforts, I don’t want to risk repeated extra doses of radiation. It’s not like you come down with a touch of cancer.
And now we move past the long-disgraced principle of bodily privacy to the awful specifics. The scanners show astonishing detail — just “outlines” of breasts and genitals, but that’s like saying “allegations” of same — and crafty modern medicine has changed the body map.
A colostomy is an external pouch into which your bowels empty via an ingenious device in the lower abdomen. If you’ve suffered the agony of ulcerative colitis, you will be happy to have one. Or you might have an insulin pump or a urinary drainage bag, something generally used after surgery, but, one would imagine, useful in other circumstances. I will draw a veil over penile implants (but the machine won’t).
Many older people wear adult diapers, and on a flight where you can’t use the washroom an hour before landing, aren’t we glad they do. Some women still use thick sanitary napkins rather than slim panty liners.
It isn’t just that these will show up on a scanner — which some will find utterly humiliating — it’s that passengers will then get a grope while explaining their bodily failings to the guard. How do guards know if a pad or bag doesn’t contain Semtex or liquid explosives? They don’t, they’ll want a look, and then we’re into a fresh hell entirely.
So your shy elderly parents won’t be visiting this year. Worse, you can’t visit them because your children will be searched. Mandy, the three-year-old girl caught sobbing “Stop touching me!” on camera at the Chattanooga, Tenn. airport as she was searched and her teddy bear was put into the black cavern of the X-ray machine? That child had probably been told that strangers should never touch her. Good for her. Proud of yourself, TSA?
We are at an impasse.
I bitterly object to being told by Toews, our national toady, that our privacy laws don’t override the American demand for private information on five million Canadians flying through U.S. airspace.
If this is what one disturbed Nigerian man achieved last Christmas with his underpants, a creative terrorist would go to the next level and make use of what Americans admit is their greatest weakness. Almost 67 per cent of them are overweight or obese (61 per cent in Canada). A smart terrorist would pull in one of his larger and more clueless devotees to tape a tiny, flat pack of Semtex between two layers of body fat.
Cunning plan: that flyer asks for a body search and the TSA tells the world about its brilliant terror “find.” Alert chunky people would stop flying out of sheer embarrassment and the airline industry would shrivel overnight.
I have only discussed specifics here because I am strangely drawn to them. But think about the principles we shredded when we voted for a government that would allow this. I no longer trust official pronouncements about risk. The story about bombs in Yemen printers conveniently popped up when the head of British Airways said American rules on airport security were ludicrous and he was no longer going to enforce them.
The Brits understand how to respond to terrorism, which is by not responding. They lived with the fear of IRA bombs for decades. Although the government disgraced itself by introducing internment without trial, the British public stayed calm and carried on, as the ubiquitous poster says.
Also, and I’m not boasting here, I find that sexual experiences are still readily available to me and I don’t need to seek them out at airports. Call me a traditionalist, but I can do better than someone with a tatty uniform and a bad attitude.