'Don't Touch My Junk, Touch His'

>Finally, civil libertarians have significant segments of the press and public on their side in a war against the post 9/11 war on liberty. But while widespread outrage over new TSA screening procedures is gratifying, it's also a cautionary tale about the role self-interest plays in the defense of individual rights. It demonstrates that a fearful public will sometimes choose liberty over a promise of security--so long as the invasion of liberty is profoundly personal and highly visible (unlike electronic surveillance), while the promise of security is transparently absurd.
   
"Don't touch my junk, touch his," might be an apt motto for some who have suddenly discovered their inner freedom fighters. I know that sounds harsh, and I don't want to malign growing resistance to scanners and abusive pat-downs or to suggest that it reflects a wholesale public awakening. Many fliers (myself included) have submitted to TSA procedures in the past, not out of misplaced faith in their ability to keep us safe or lack of concern for privacy but because they weren't worth the trouble of protesting and risking a missed flight, if not interrogation or even arrest. Still I can't help comparing the sympathy afforded this new uprising against security theater with the antipathy directed toward people who have been decrying gratuitously abusive tactics of the security state for nearly a decade.
   
Consider the overnight conversion of Charles Krauthamer from authoritarian to libertarian. Krauthamer has characterized torture as a "moral duty" in the proverbial case of the "ticking time bomb" (based on highly questionable assumptions that torture produces reliable information and is never inflicted on the innocent; never mind the case of Maher Arar). Absent a ticking bomb, he acknowledges his "tentativeness and uncertainty" about torture, not categorical opposition. But Krauthamer is suffused with moral clarity when confronted with intrusive, (painless) TSA screening procedures. "This time you have gone too far, Big Bro'," he declares, with a show of populist bravado.  
   
What's his solution to airport security? Racial profiling. The trouble with screening procedures is "political correctness." The "profile of the airline attacker is ... universally known," Krauthamer asserts; (no tentativeness or uncertainty here). He's not a libertarian; he's a tribalist, convinced that he and others like him are imbued with rights and confident that his fellow tribesmen can recognize a threatening outsider when he crosses the threshold. The same TSA responsible for the "idiocy" of new screening procedures is apparently smart enough to recognize a terrorist by his appearance; he's not a "beltless salesman," much less a "wizened senior" (and, I guess, he is not Timothy McVeigh); he is an immediately recognizable "Nigerian Nut job." In other words,"Don't touch our junk. Touch his."
   

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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional.

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