fidesquaerens (marta_bee) wrote,

TSA Scanners and Us vs. Them

So, the TSA is at it again - only this time they're going in the other direction. In response to all the complaints about those full-body scanners, they have introduced new technology that is apparently more modest. They still scan you, but the TSA agent will only be shown a scan of you if the computer recognizes something suspicious. May not be criminal; the article gives an example of a guy with a long pony-tail. But most of us won't have those ever-so-explicit grainy photos of ourselves taken.

I'm no great fan of these scanners. In spite of some comments I've made to some of you privately, I do tend to think they're overreaching, Constitution-speaking. (Warrantless searches, anyone?) More dangerously, I also think they're perpetuating a myth that if we just take the right steps we will be perfectly safe. No one is ever perfectly safe, ever. I wouldn't mind seeing the scanners going away, except I suspect I'd be equally unhappy with most of the other options.

But what really goads me is the reaction to all of this. It's not that the TSA scanners are ineffective. (I suspect they are.) It's not even that we as a society have decided this is a bridge too far for everyone. It's that we've decided that it's too invasive for people like us. People who look Arab have been subjected to intense screenings and pat-downs for years, and no one has minded all that much. Certainly not the people who are objecting too much. they didn't mind peoples' phones being tapped, suspected terrorists being held without due process at Guantanamo. They didn't mind much more extreme measures, like sending Americans into battle against a country that had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11. According to, there have been 4,436 Americans killed and more than 32,000 injured in Iraq, and that doesn't even include other allied soldiers or Iraqi civilians. To say nothing about the situation in Egypt. If Americans weren't primed to think that Arab Muslims were threats to our security, I suspect our reaction to that democratic uprising would be very different indeed.

If the TSA scanners made us more secure, and if we are willing to ask nearly 4,500 Americans die for the rest of our safety, I would consider going through a TSA scanner my patriotic duty. There's no such thing as absolute security, of course, and there are better ways to improve airplane security than with passenger screenings. But that's not the point people are making. It's that they're embarrassed to have their genitalia photographed.

Now a computer will be doing the first round of screening. I remember the early days of voice recognition, and I know I wouldn't trust my safety to a computer subroutine. Certainly not if I was going to ask all of those people to die to protect said security.

Ask yourself a simple question: do you think the same people who are happy to let Saul through security with a computer scan would be willing to do that if his name was Suleiman? I ask not because I think Arabs *are* more likely to commit security-related crimes (NB to Rep. King: most aren't terrorists, and most do a damned good job helping in terrorism-related investigations). But I do think people would feel differently about Muslims and Arabs being subjected to this level of scrutiny. Why? Because they've reacted that way in the past.

And that's just wrong.
Tags: politics
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