Dignity Denied

by Cody Hensarling

“Is it too much to ask to have a little dignity when we are traveling?”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)

Yesterday, January 23, 2012, Senator Rand Paul attempted to travel to Washington DC to speak at the Rally for Life. I use the word “attempted”, because Senator Paul didn’t quite make it all the way to Washington. Rather, he was detained in the Nashville airport. This is more than a bit ironic because it has been Senator Paul who has been leading the charge in the Senate to bring reform to the TSA. While there are conflicting reports on what exactly transpired in that airport, the following information seems to be factual.

Sen. Paul triggered an alarm on a metal screener; this is not an abnormal occurrence, a statement with which anyone who is a frequent traveler would concur. Sen. Paul was told that the scanner was “getting a hotspot around his knee. In response, he pulled up his pant leg and pulled down his sock and attempted to show the part in question to the TSA official. The TSA official refused the attempt and demanded that Sen. Paul submit to a full-body pat down. Sen. Paul offered to go through the screener a second time, but was told that he would not be able to fly if he didn’t submit to a pat down. He again refused the pat down, asked to see a manager, and was “detained” in a cubicle for over an hour and a half before he was eventually allowed to go through the scanner for a second time. The second time through, the scanner showed no hotspot and he was allowed to proceed through.

While this incident alone may cause some alarm and question the reliability of TSA scanners, it should be viewed in the full context of the situation. Sen. Paul confided to Fox’s Greta Van Sustern that several TSA officials told me off the record that the scanning machine sends a false positive signal that they can randomly patted down people. Apparently, this is the method that the TSA has employed to prevent any appearance of racial profiling, figuring that the public is more likely to trust what a machine determines as a hotspot than whom a TSA screener determines is the subject of a “random” pat down.

Perhaps I wouldn’t have as much of a problem with this if the TSA hadn’t already proven to be so bad at respecting the dignity of the average traveler. Between lying about the frequency and legality of gross privacy violations, admitting that full body scanners could be emitting harmful radiation, and violating their own policies regarding the screening of the elderly, the TSA doesn’t have a lot of credibility in my eyes.

Simply put, we have to find a better way to provide effective security to airline passengers without stripping passengers of their clothes and their dignity. Airport security remains a critical vulnerability in America’s national defense, but this lack of security should be remedied by innovation that protects dignity and rights, rather than policies that empower the TSA and dehumanize travelers.

Cody Hensarling is an intern at the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

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