Opinion

The TSA is violating our Fourth Amendment rights

As the executive director of the Association for Airline Passenger Rights (AAPR), as well as a passenger who has personally experienced just about every security screening technique employed by our federal government — including enhanced full-body scanners and aggressive pat-downs, to name a few – I feel compelled to address the recent TSA flap.

Just prior to the busy Thanksgiving holiday travel weekend, AAPR took a strong public stand against the security measures being used by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which we would like to further explain. AAPR concluded that the enhanced full-body scanners and aggressive pat-downs, among other things, violate privacy rights protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment (scanners and pat-downs), pose potential medical risks to passengers (scanners) and divert limited manpower and resources from other more effective security screening measures. AAPR’s position was fortified when TSA Administrator John S. Pistole brushed aside the legitimate concerns expressed over privacy rights by defending his agency with belittling statements towards groups like AAPR. The arrogance of TSA led AAPR to support the National Opt-Out Day. It is a decision that we stand behind!

Ask yourself this simple question: Would you deem it acceptable if, when walking down the street in your hometown of Washington, DC, you were randomly stopped by law enforcement and told that you had to undergo a pat-down or strip search? What would your reaction be if, when asked why, law enforcement responded that it was to ensure the “safety and security” of the community and the people around you? Fortunately for us, it would never happen in the United States, at least not without probable cause by law enforcement. Why? Because those are the rights afforded to people in the United States — regardless of their citizenship — under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment.

So it begs the question, why is it acceptable for TSA to engage in the very same practice, all under the guise of protecting the safety and security of the flying public? The answer is simple: It is NOT acceptable! And according to Zogby International, 61% of likely voters oppose TSA’s new security measures, while 48% said they would probably seek alternatives to flying. Is this an issue where the U.S. airline industry and passengers can agree?

Interestingly enough, only the government and the companies manufacturing the enhanced full-body scanners seem to be supportive of the security screenings. Joining the chorus behind airline passenger rights groups has been the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), unions representing airline pilots and flight attendants, disability rights organizations and others groups. Further evidence that TSA is taking the wrong approach is the mere fact that far-right conservatives and extreme-left liberals are singing the same tune against the security screenings.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.”

Apparently, members of Congress agree with our founding fathers, as they are lining up against TSA’s new security measures. On November 18th, Rep. John J. Duncan, Jr. (TN-2) told the Knoxville News Sentinel, “The American people should not have to choose between having full-body radiation or a very embarrassing, intrusive pat-down every time they fly, as if they were criminals.” Rep. Duncan also called into question the lucrative nature of the contracts being secured by some of the private companies represented by former U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.