Despite billions spent on airport security, federal bureaucrats have escaped the terminal. Is your 4th Amendment safe?
Most air travelers now endure naked scans or genital pat-downs by gloved agents of the government without surprise or complaint. But before invasive security became normal, there was a backlash. And at its height, Transportation Security Administration boss John Pistole said something revealing. "I see flying as a privilege that is a public safety issue. So the government has a role in providing for the public safety and we need to do everything we can in partnership with the traveling public, to inform them about what their options are," he told reporters. "I clearly believe that passengers have a number of options as they go through screening. But the bottom line is, if someone decides they don't want to have screening, they don't have the right to get on the plane." What perturbed me wasn't his defense of mandatory security screening. It was his assertion that air travel is a special "privilege" the feds grant citizens.
I felt the same uneasy twinge when Janet Napolitano, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, told USA Today that "if people want to travel by other means, they have that right." Because where does that attitude end? Is it a "privilege" to attend the Super Bowl, where TSA agents scan the crowd for suspicious behavior? Or to ride on a Metro system, an Amtrak train, or a boat -- other forms of transportation that Napolitano has mused about targeting? As Mark Browning wrote in 2010, using hyperbole and reduction ad absurdum to mock Napolitano, "The bus system could come next. Come to think of it, so could travel by automobile... Here, we find that not only are the crevices of our bodies searched, but so are the contents of our cars. If you don't like it, don't drive. Nowhere in that living document, the Constitution, are we assured of our right to move without hindrance from point to point by private automobile."