Saturday, May 28, 2011

The virtue of modesty

Different cultures, religions and individuals have different ideas of the value and meaning of modesty. A common reaction that I have received when I tell people of my aversion to airport scanners and patdowns is something along the lines of: "Why are you being so modest?" The question I have for people who think that giving up long-held views of personal modesty is a reasonable thing for the government to force on its citizens is: "Why is being modest something to be mocked or dismissed?"

Here's an essay from a Catholic woman who dresses modestly on the airport experience. I've been waiting for religious Americans to speak out against the scanners in a more concerted fashion. Unfortunately, pieces like this one are too infrequent. And, while some of the commenters agree that the procedures at the airport are an affront to modest people, too many state that it is worth it for the added security [theater!].

Another interesting thing in this essay is that women who dress modestly (in clothes that aren't tight-fitting and, particularly, in long skirts) have been getting singled out by the TSA for years. I had heard this about people wearing loose-fitting clothes (such as sweat pants), but, before I read this article, I did not consider that a large population of religious Americans are essentially being targeted for additional screening because of the ridiculous policies of a bloated, too-powerful, and ineffective agency. (Note: in my previous post I noted that a blogger stated that it was "easy" to avoid the scanners. Apparently, this only works if you are dressed a certain way, and wearing a habib is not the only thing that will set off flags.)

UPDATE: I forgot that there were two related stories on this I had read. The commenters I was referring to 2 paragraphs up are on this story from a different Catholic woman.

Friday, May 27, 2011

There will always be a security gap

This opinion piece notes that it is "easy" to avoid scanners, and that therefore this is an ineffective policy. He suggests that the TSA should stop doing things half-way.

It is the nature of bureaucracy - particularly 60,000-strong government agencies - to do a mediocre job of everything, full of holes. It is in the best interest of the people working for the agency.

As an aside - it may be easy for some people to avoid scanners, but some people are being targeted (more on this in a future post). Nonetheless, I don't want to risk it; the cost is too great since you can't rely on being able to back-out of the deal without threats of fines and imprisonment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Napolitano's "Pants on Fire"

Politifact comments on this quote from DHS head, Janet Napolitano:
"Well, actually, very, very, very few people get a pat-down," Napolitano replied. "It’s only under very limited circumstances. They do, however, get -- those who are patted down -- tend to get on YouTube." she quipped.
By TSA's numbers, 3% of passengers get a pat-down, which works out to roughly 1.8 million pat-downs per month.
That doesn’t sound like "very, very, very" few people to us.

If Napolitano said that "a small percentage of passengers" get patted down each month, she would have been correct. But she talked about "people." In addition, she used the superlative "very" three times, even though the TSA’s own figures show that the numbers of passengers who receive a pat-down can top 1 million in a single month.

We rate her statement Pants On Fire.
Like a good bureaucrat, Napolitano managed to lie while simultaneously not answering the question ("Will we go past the grope-and-grab phase? The machines that scan the bodies and so forth? Are there better ways of doing it?").

Op-ed from Texas legislator

The Texas legislation to treat pat-downs as sexual assault is getting more news, especially since it's the first state to get it passed through the house. Here is a good piece from one of the signatories, David Simpson. It makes the scanners harder to justify if the only alternative is sexual assault. (Of course, the agents viewing scanner images should also be subject to sex crime charges.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The TSA's security model

I don't know much about the website this is on, and I don't endorse all that the writer of this piece says, but I do like his overarching analysis. An excerpt:
But the TSA's breast milk and baby follies are a side effect of a law enforcement culture which is less concerned with public safety, than it is with public order. Where public safety works to identify threats, public order concentrates on enforcing the rules. Public safety looks for the wolf in the fold, public order treats everyone like the wolf....
After September 11 everyone knows what the stakes are. There are no more illusions about being taken hostage. Or about obedience equating to survival. But the government's approach to airline security still uses the obedience is survival model. Comply with the authorities and we'll protect you. But everyone knows the authorities can't protect them. Only the people can protect themselves. The TSA attempts to maintain order by imposing absolute control over the environment. But control is an illusion. Every security system has its flaws and given time those weak points will be found and exploited. You can look through people's clothes, but you can't look into their hearts.
The first and final layer of defense is still the people. That was true 10 years ago and it's still true today. But it's an obvious fact that the authorities have done their best to obscure and deny. As flawed as the official model of national security is, it's the only one that they will admit even exists.
Read the rest...

A political Q&A

Some people running for Congress in a NY district were asked about the TSA policies by a local reporter. Here are their responses:

What is your position on the controversy surrounding TSA scanners and enhanced pat downs?
[Ian Murphy]: Well, that's a  complicated situation. It's real easy to get bent out of shape about some dude touching your “junk,” but some very credible reporters have claimed that the whole “Opt Out” movement was a carefully orchestrated PR campaign aimed at demonizing the TSA, which has been involved in a decade-long struggle to gain the same collective bargaining rights enjoyed by employees of all other federal agencies. And lo they have been demonized.
Astroturf aside, I have no problem with being scanned. And if you do “opt out” prepare to be frisked. I don't feel like I'm giving up any rights in this case, and I'd like to know that everyone on that plane was checked for explosives and other weapons too.
There's a  very big difference between something like this and something like the warrentless wiretapping in the Patriot Act. Our Constitution provides us protection against unwarranted search and seizure. It doesn't, however, give us the right to enter a potential flying bomb with weapons. To me, this seems by definition warranted.
[Kathy Hochul has no response]
 [Jane Corwin]: The TSA has a mission of keeping our airlines safe, however it seems clear – at least from some of the reports I’ve seen – that in some cases they have gone too far with their pat down policy.
[Jack Davis]: We need to start concentrating our resources on real potential threats and not squander them hassling average citizens.
They all sound like politicians, but it's good news that this topic has not died away and at least some candidates are being asked to make a statement on it.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A small concession from the GOP

You would think that cutting funding for more scanners would be one cut that the left and right might possibly, conceivably come together on. The GOP gets to stand up and say they cut something - anything  - from the budget when their constituency is clamoring for a crackdown on spending. The Dems get to stand up for individual liberty. Well, we'll see how far this goes, but the GOP has, in fact, proposed that the TSA does not get funding for more scanners next year.

Here's one security hawk's take. Yuck!

And, although this article is not exactly friendly to us anti-scanner folks, I think the analysis is probably accurate. This "cut" will be blocked by the Dems and the GOP will breathe a sigh of relief.
No politician wants to make a point of cutting TSA's funding, only to take the blame if the nation suffers another terrorist attack. Privacy advocates are pretty good about working the media, but TSA officials have friendly journalists too—and they'd make a point of naming Congressional names in the aftermath of a hijacking or bombing.
Preventing more scanners is a good thing - and I hope it does pass - but I'm ever cynical about our freedoms ever being restored.