People were grumbling about airport security long before “don’t touch my junk” became a national catchphrase. But in recent weeks, minor annoyance has morphed into serious umbrage. Nearly a decade after 9/11, liberals and conservatives alike have finally started missing the rights they once willingly handed over along with their loafers and laptops.
A “national opt out day” on Thanksgiving eve didn’t materialize (apparently folks’ desire to reclaim their privacy was trumped by a desire to eat Mom’s green-bean casserole), but the issue hasn’t gone away. We reached out to Laurie Temple, a staff attorney with ACLU Hawaii, to find out about the agency’s position on TSA’s controversial screenings and pat-downs, and why she thinks public outrage has suddenly reached a boiling point.
Last week, ACLU Hawaii handed out “know your rights” fliers outside the Honolulu Airport. What was the impetus behind that, and what was the response, from both airport officials and travelers?
[We want] travelers to know their rights at the airport, particularly Hawaii residents and visitors who have no choice but to fly and are the hardest hit by the invasive new TSA procedures. TSA has implemented extremely intrusive new procedures and technologies that violate our standards of decency, as well as our fundamental right to privacy and our right to be free from unreasonable searches. Travelers and airport officials alike were appreciative of the information and hopeful that TSA will institute procedures that make us safer without compromising our privacy.
On your Web site, you say that TSA screening procedures provide “a false sense of security.” It sounds like you think they not only violate people’s rights, but aren’t even effective. Explain.
The effectiveness of body scanners is uncertain. It is far from clear that the machines would have detected the “anatomically congruent” explosives used in the Christmas Day attack. Some experts have said explosives can be hidden from the machines by being molded against the human body, or in folds of skin. A study by British officials found the scanners would not be effective for stopping terrorist threats to planes. Enacting ineffective measures designed to make us feel better while taking away our rights won’t help anyone.
How do you respond to those who say they’re willing to give up their right to privacy in the name of security, at least in some instances?
The government must keep us safe, but it must do so in an effective way that respects our right to privacy. Nobody should be forced to choose between “naked scans” and intrusive groping by strangers.
It’s been suggested that a certain amount of profiling—not necessarily based on race, but perhaps things like behavior or countries visited—could allow security to be more targeted and less generally invasive. Is there any level of profiling ACLU Hawaii would support if it meant fewer people having their privacy infringed upon?
The first line of defense should be old-fashioned law enforcement and intelligence work that stops plotters before they get to the airport. Evidence-based, targeted and narrowly tailored investigations based on individualized suspicion would be both more consistent with our values and more effective than diverting resources to a system of mass suspicion.
In the wake of 9/11, when these more invasive procedures started taking effect, there was an outcry, but it was muted and came mostly from the left. Now, people from all sides of the political spectrum are protesting. What do you think has changed?
The TSA screening procedures are an affront to American values. While every American wants to be safe when flying, they also have limits; allowing the government to take naked pictures and touch our bodies just goes too far. Once we betray our own values, we stop looking like a free America, and the terrorists win.