A whole new fear of flying

Invasive security searches have passengers clamoring for dignity
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Photo
Transportation Security Agency officers check airline passenger as they check in at Washington’s Ronald Reagan National Airport. U.S. officials are defending new anti-terrorism security procedures at the nation’s airports that some travelers complain are overly invasive and intimate.



What a galvanizing battlefield moment in the war against our privacy and dignity.

John Tyner's blog entry and accompanying videos chronicling his airport ordeal at the hands of the Transportation Security Agency starkly reveal the repulsively uneven enforcement employed in the name of airline safety.

Airport security measures have long been idiotic.

The difference is, now they're offensive as well.

Newly arrived full-body scanning machines, which essentially see you naked, are horrifying passengers and even pilots -- who not only complain about their intrusiveness but question their safety.

But if you object to the scanner, your reward is a full-body pat-down -- which an increasing number of fliers are claiming to be absurdly personal to the point of being humiliating.

That's exactly what happened -- almost -- to Tyner, a 31-year-old software engineer.

After Tyner flatly refused the embarrassing body scan, a TSA agent instead gave him the option of a pat-down. The agent described the intimate procedure, and Tyner vowed he would have the agent arrested if his private parts were touched.

Tyner ended up cashing in his ticket and canceling his trip -- but as he left the airport a security supervisor threatened him with a civil lawsuit and a hefty fine for leaving because security hadn't finished screening him.

Remember -- by that time, he wasn't even an airline passenger!

It's gotten so bad, just in time for the holiday travel rush, that travel industry executives met with Homeland Security officials to voice their concerns that the invasive procedures were discouraging people from flying -- and alienating those who do.

Pilots and flight attendants also note, rightly, the folly and frustration of repeatedly scanning or patting down the same airline personnel flight after flight. You'd think they'd recognize these folks at some point, and figure out they're not a terrorist threat.

Then again, the Transportation Security Agency's policy of randomly searching little old ladies and children isn't much smarter.

Meanwhile, Muslim women who wear bulky, head-to-toe outfits are being counseled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations not to agree to either the body scans or pat-downs -- and to tell authorities they'll only agree to be touched from the neck up.

Considering the religious nature of their objections, they are likely to be the main group, if not the only group, that escapes scrutiny in airports.

One man said his 8-year-old son was even touched in the genital area during a random pat-down.

"We spend my child's whole life telling him that only mom, dad and a doctor can touch you in your private area," the father told Reuters, "and now we have to add TSA (agents), and that's just wrong."

Is this really the best we can do to stay safe in the 21st century?

This goes far beyond this temporal holiday travel season. We'll be setting benchmarks for the privacy rights of future generations.

The Tyner incident is an almost Orwellian moment in our attempt to redraw the line between security and human dignity. Out of a pathetic fear of profiling, we're getting the line wrong.