Government Agency To Harass and Persecute Public for Standing Up for Their Rights

In this case the “government agency” in question is the Transportation Security Administration. Faced with a massive public outcry regarding their new policy of molesting and sexually assaulting travelers who refuse to subject themselves to the new full-body scan machines at airports, the TSA is fighting back by aggressively harassing and persecuting those who object to the new rules.

The target is a San Diego man, John Tyner who made a video of his encounter with the TSA at the San Diego airport over the weekend. Tyner objected to the TSA’s plan to fondle his genitals, telling the agent “don’t touch my junk” – which triggered the TSA to react so defensively that they refused to let Tyner board his flight.

The TSA has been facing a growing public backlash over these machines, as stories of people being subjected to this stunning invasion of their privacy – including a 3-year old girl – are spreading like wildfire. The airline industry is worried about a potential hit to their bottom line if people stop flying to avoid these searches, and flight crews are outraged that they too are being subjected to the scans. But it is Tyner’s video that has gone viral and propelled this into a major news story.

So how does the TSA respond? By persecuting Tyner:

The Transportation Security Administration has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, the Oceanside man who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan….

Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office in San Diego, called a news conference at the airport Monday afternoon to announce the probe. He said the investigation could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000.

The only reason the TSA is doing this is to make an example of Tyner to the rest of the country – “resist us and you will pay.” It’s designed to stop people from standing up for their rights and to quell the growing public outrage at the new procedures.

There is no legitimate reason for the TSA to do this. It’s an abuse of power and a sign that the TSA has grown out of control, an agency that needs to be reined in rather than empowered to do whatever it wants out of public fear of another September 11-style attack.

The contrast with other countries is significant. When traveling in Europe in 2009 – including in Spain, a country which has faced a much more persistent and immediate terrorist threat than the US – their airport security procedures are much more sensible and effective. No full-body scans, no invasive pat-downs without some reason to suspect one is needed. The TSA’s security polices exist to protect its own power, not to keep the public safe.

While some dismiss this issue, either taking the side of a government that is now blatantly trampling on people’s rights or saying that this doesn’t matter as much as other privacy concerns, it is now clear that the TSA full-body scans and pat-downs are going to be an important moment in the effort to define and protect our rights in a world concerned about security.

For nine years Americans have gone along with abrogations of their rights and invasions of their privacy in the name of security. This has not been isolated, but is part of a broader trend of undermining basic rights and legal procedures in the name of anti-terrorism. Whether it’s waterboarding of terrorist suspects, indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay, or government spying on peaceful protestors, the basic philosophy has been that rights are secondary to security. As the TSA agent told Tyner, “you gave up a lot of rights when you bought your ticket.”

Obviously there’s a degree of difference between the horrific abuses at Guantanamo Bay and what happened to Tyner. But the underlying issue is still the same – must we give up our cherished democratic rights in order to be safe? The TSA may have finally gone too far, and may have finally provoked Americans into resisting the erosion of their rights in the name of anti-terrorism.

Stopping the body scans and pat-downs won’t close Guantanamo, end torture, or lead to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for those dire abuses of power and of human rights. But any time you have a public that is suddenly aware of the damage that has been done to privacy rights and legal processes, it’s an opportunity to organize people to defend their rights and their freedoms more broadly, to get them to call into question and hopefully oppose all forms of trampling of rights so that government can act with fewer limits on itself. It’s a long way for many Americans to go from sympathy for Tyner to sympathy for a Guantanamo prisoner, but it is possible, and it’s an opening I’d make use of if I were organizing on the issue.

No wonder the TSA is so scared, no wonder they are fighting back against the public. And that’s why this issue matters.

UPDATE: Zack Kaldveer, the editor of the California Progress Report, has been tracking this issue for quite some time over at his Privacy Revolt! blog. It’s a great resource.

18 thoughts on “Government Agency To Harass and Persecute Public for Standing Up for Their Rights”

  1. The PATRIOT Act was put together very quickly because it was basically an FBI / CIA wish list for the war on [some] drugs that was already in place.  

    The main difference now is that the people who are the wrong end of things are occasionally not poor people or people of the wrong race or religion.

  2. i have never had to put up with the sort of invasive, bullying security theatre that i do back home in the US. and if anything, if you’re traveling with a child, security was far nicer in asia. i cannot imagine anything like the forcible groping of that 3 year old happening outside of america. it has nothing to do with security, and everything to do with dominance and compliance.  

  3. There is a TSA oversight hearing tomorrow that Senator Boxer will hopefully attend.  Call her office and let her know what you think of the TSA’s PornoScanner/3rd-base pat down policy: (202) 224-3553

  4. I’m actually going to be fairly contrarian about this.

    First off, I’m not commenting on the wisdom or lack thereof of these procedures.  That part is definitely debatable, and I’ve always been a fan of the European and Israeli model of identifying threatening people as opposed to threatening objects, with the threatening object detection being your last line of defense rather than the first.

    Having said that, I’m a disabled person, an amputee in a wheelchair, with a fair amount of metal in my back because of scoliosis, and so ever since about 7 years old, in the ’80s, I’ve had to be singled out for a pat-down every single time that I go through security.  Doesn’t matter where, when, the nature of the flight, etc. etc., because of the fact that I can set off a metal detector at about 5 paces, I get a manual search every time.

    Before Sept. 11th and TSA, it was a nightmare, and you never quite knew what to expect.  The Phoenix airport wasn’t that bad, the people in Gainesville FL were pretty professional, Cleveland was passable, but the people in Columbus were the epitome of the Keystone Kops – I once had a rent-a-cop running security at Columbus in the early 90s ask me to do a handstand.  I was in middle school – an amputee, with a spinal brace, no less.  It was humiliating (not to mention a physical impossibility).

    So for me, the advent of TSA and the federalizing (and normalization) of airport security standards has been barely short of a Godsend.  I fly a lot, and every time I go through security it’s the exact same procedure, every single time, every single airport.  I know exactly what to expect, they’ve always been professional about it to me, they do the pat-downs thoroughly but exactly the same way every time, they help me to re-pack my luggage and to put it back on the wheelchair, and they’ve always been quite professional about one of my surgical incisions which is painful to the touch.  Compared to the Keystone Kops of the ’80s and ’90s, this is a massive improvement.

    Before I get flamed, again, I’m not commenting on the usefulness of the searches, just the professionalism of it, and as someone with a lot of medical problems, the crazy liquids procedures that have come down from DHS give me a splitting headache.  I’m also aware that in the last couple of weeks TSA has changed their procedures a bit, so this weekend I may end up eating my words.  But the front-line employees at TSA I’ve found are really quite professional.

    Obviously, those people at Lindbergh weren’t.  But in a workforce of that size, you’re going to have idiots and assholes.  I’m more interested to see the response from TSA subsequent to what happened at SAN and to see what parts of what happened are and aren’t going to be considered acceptable at the regional and national level of supervision.

  5. “Travel” underwear with a thin metallic paint saying assorted things like “No terrorists in here” or “this ad space for rent” or the more expressive “FUCK OFF, TSA”

  6. It’s fun to see “liberals” all at once concerned about big government and bereaucracy. But 38 years ago the writer Francis Schaeffer warned us that the ultimate two values of what was then called the Silent Majority were not virtue and liberty, but affluence and “personal peace” (being left out of the world’s troubles).  

  7. It should be pointed out that there really truly are people who think God will reward them if they blow us up. And no, most Muslims are not like that. One of the reasons I cheer for high speed rail is it will give us am alternative to the fucking airlines.  

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