The GOP's Airport Security Backlash

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Some Republicans say body scanners are too expensive and intrusive pat downs are just wrong. Is it okay to criticize anti-terrorism measures again?scann full.jpg

In the fight over airport security, civil libertarians just got some welcome news: "House Republicans controlling the Transportation Security Administration's purse strings are moving to cut off new funding for those advanced airport scanners that have sparked outrage over their revealing images of travelers' bodies." In many ways, this is a small victory. It won't affect the body scanners already in place, or 500 additional machines already funded by recently passed legislation.

On the other hand, it's good to see that asserting something is necessary in the war on terrorism no longer means that Republican legislators are going to lend their automatic support to it. Their new attitude is much preferable to the mindset articulated by the naked scanner company. "Now they will have to hand search more people," a Rapiscan Systems executive told the Huffington Post. "Ninety-five-plus percent of people would rather be scanned than go through a pat down."

So those are the only conceivable choices now? Another group of Republicans in Texas would beg to differ:

The Texas House of Representatives late on Thursday approved a bill that would make invasive pat-downs at Texas airports a crime, after a former Miss USA said she felt "molested" at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport last month. Transportation Security Administration agents could be charged with a misdemeanor crime, face a $4,000 fine and one year in jail under the measure.

The proposal would classify any airport inspection that "touches the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast of another person including through the clothing, or touches the other person in a manner that would be offensive to a reasonable person" as an offense of sexual harassment under official oppression.

Much as I hate to ponder TSA employees being made into criminals for doing their jobs, I am heartened to see a state government pushing back against the federal bureaucracy's procedures, even if the passage of the bill would result in litigation that they'd almost certainly lose.

These challenges in Washington, D.C., and Austin are reminders that opposing intrusive government is possible, even when counter-terrorism efforts are implicated. I can't say that this is the most vital war on terrorism excess to remedy, or that I trust the GOP to safeguard civil liberties generally. But perhaps we're finally returning to being a country where invoking security isn't the end of the argument.  

Image credit: Phil Noble/Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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