In recent weeks, there has been much outrage regarding the full body scanners and pat down techniques currently in place at airports across the country.  Last week, I took a step away from my generally (but not always) pretty liberal point of view to argue in support of speed cameras.  This week, I once again side with the government on an issue.  Don’t expect this to become a trend …

I do expect some tomatoes to be thrown my way – so don’t be shy about sharing your opinion.

First of all, lest anyone jump to wrong conclusions, I certainly don’t support all of the actions of the TSA.  If pat downs are crossing the line into the area of sexual molestation, then this is CLEARLY wrong and those who are using the name of the TSA to perpetrate criminal acts should be prosecuted.  I also take exception to small children being separated from their parents during the pat down process.  My general rule of thumb here is going to be that anyone who can’t vote has the option of having a parent with them during the process. 

My friend Lazy Man is in disagreement with me on this issue, writing recently in opposition to the full body scanning and pat downs (and a couple of days ago, The Angry Squirrel also chimed in on the topic).  Lazy makes many arguments that I agree with, and I’m guessing that he will agree with some parts of my argument.  The difference is that we place different weights of certain factors.

In his article, Lazy Man makes this comment: “I understand the need for security, but I believe our right to privacy trumps that.

Let’s look at this in detail.

Our right to privacy

Which right to privacy, exactly?  There is, of course, no explicit right to privacy outlined in the constitution, although various amendments are generally interpreted in a way that suggests this right – something that has been backed up by a considerable amount of case law.

However, the right to privacy is really not at risk here.  The TSA cannot force you to undergo body scanning or a pat down.

Of course, if you refuse, you won’t be allowed to board the plane.  Note that you aren’t being deprived of your right to privacy – you’re simply being deprived of your “right” to board an airplane.  Guess what – no such right exists.  You can fly or you can decline screening – your choice.

While the issue at airports is front and center these days, the fact of the matter is that when you buy an airline ticket, you are entering into a contract.  In exchange for a seat on the plane, you pay a sum of money and agree to other terms.  I don’t have an airline ticket in front of me, but I suspect that being vetted by security is part of the fine print.

Odd that you’d need to give up a right as part of a contract?  Not really.  That’s often the very point of a contract.  Sign a contract to play Major League Baseball?  Guess what – you’re going to have to submit to drug testing and you’ll be bound to a particular team for a number of years (note that for many jobs, you have to submit to drug testing even if your employment is “at will” – a case where you don’t even have a contract).  Want to open a restaurant?  Prepare for inspections by the department of health.

Privacy trumps security

Go through a full body scan and the worst thing that happens is that your privacy has been invaded.  Yeah, that’s bad.

Get on a plane with people who haven’t gone through rigid security screening and the worst thing that happens is that you can die in a firy crash when a bomb explodes.  That’s the worst kind of bad.

I wonder how many people who complain about invasion of privacy still want terrorists to go through body scanners or pat downs.  Ah, there’s the trick … sometimes the wolf can wear sheep’s clothing. 

What this really boils down to is your privacy on one side of the equations, and hundreds of lives on the other side.  The equation is similarly unbalanced for every passenger, as any one person can result in everyone dying.

Kids should be exempt

I’ve seen suggestions on many sites, including The Consumerist, suggesting that very young children be allowed to pass through without screening.  After all, a three year old can’t possibly be a member of a terror cell.

While this is true, the sad fact is that it is not uncommon for parents to use their children as “mules” to unwittingly transport contraband from place to place.  If a drug smuggler can use a baby, then why not a terrorist?

I’m the parent of two young children.  Nonetheless, I think that children should have to go through screening the same as anyone else.

What’s next?

This isn’t to say that what’s in place today is the perfect solution.  Let’s once again look back at Lazy Man’s article, in which he says “There is talk about having the computer only showing outlines of the body and potential foreign objects. Considering that the technology that we have with facial recognition is a million times more complex this should be able to implemented in a couple of weeks.”  I’m definitely on board with anything that minimizes the risk to privacy while still maintaining the same level of security.