Mary L.G. Theroux: Speak up against TSA thuggery |

Mary L.G. Theroux: Speak up against TSA thuggery

Mary L.G. Theroux
The Independent Institute

As revolts demonstrating humankind’s innate yearning to be free erupt around the world, it is deeply ironic that here in the formerly freest nation ever established, Americans are being conditioned to submit to unreasonable searches on top of the warrantless wiretaps and other rights violations that have escalated over the past 10 years.

That such is the most recent outcome of the “War on Terror” was made personally apparent during my recent encounter with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at the Oakland, Calif. airport. Entering security, I was motioned towards the backscatter screening machine. Having read warnings of potential serious health risks from scientists at the University of California San Francisco and Columbia University, I refused, and told the TSA agents why. As I then complied with the “enhanced pat-down” procedure, I simultaneously carried on a loud vocal protest of the unreasonableness of the search and the gross violation of my rights. Meanwhile, my adult stepson, who had preceded me through security via the “regular” metal detector, was seated on a bench a few feet away and took out his cell phone to record the proceedings. A TSA agent stood in front of him and ordered him to stop. When asked on what authority, the agent responded that it was against their “procedures” – in contradistinction to the TSA’s own website stating that such recording is not prohibited. After some further exchange, my stepson complied and put his cell phone away, my “pat-down” was completed, and we went on our way.

We were therefore surprised when, 10 minutes prior to take-off, a uniformed TSA Supervisor, two uniformed TSA agents, and a plain-suited Supervisory Transportation Security Officer (TSO) made their way down the aisle of the fully-loaded plane to where we were seated and ordered us to go with them. As I protested, the Supervisory TSO told the TSA Supervisor that all they needed were our names and flight information, and I handed him our boarding passes. The TSA Supervisor officiously insisted we had to get off the plane with them, and not wishing to miss the flight, now even nearer take-off, we accompanied them to the jet-way, where another plain-suited man and a baggage handler waited, who left as I continued my verbal protest of the proceedings. As the TSA Supervisor took down our drivers license information, I recorded their names from their security badges, and we were eventually allowed to re-board.

Yet the entire incident could have served no legitimate purpose – they had already established beyond a reasonable doubt, utilizing their own “enhanced” screening methods, that we posed no danger, and we had been easily approachable in the boarding area for at least 25 minutes prior to boarding the plane. I could thus only conclude that it had been staged for the sole purpose of demonstrating to the entire captive audience of passengers that those who do not comply quietly will be made examples of.

After returning home, I posted the incident on the Independent Institute’s blog, from whence it garnered a remarkable 3,300 social-network “shares.”

I have subsequently been bombarded with e-mails detailing experiences ranging from petty humiliations to horrifying, including an inordinate number of women reporting overly intrusive groping of their breasts and pubic areas.

I have thus come to the conclusion that these represent far more than mere anecdotal accounts, and are rather evidence of a pervasive attitude and culture among the TSA of wanton disregard for the dignity and rights of Americans – especially, apparently, of women.

Yet despite widespread protests, Congressional hearings, and proposed legislation to reverse the trend, the thuggery continues unchecked. Will the generation that has allowed the steady erosion of the liberties we claimed in the ’60s to hold so dear affect a reversal of this culture of fear, or will we pass on to our children and grandchildren a nation whose citizens are lorded over by power-corrupted government agents? If so, we will have failed in our stewardship indeed.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President at The Independent Institute.

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