NYT Op-Ed: Stripped of Dignity


Published: April 19, 2011

A young computer programmer on his way to a pheasant-hunting trip last November offered a cri de coeur about government groping.

“If you touch my junk,” he told the T.S.A. agent at the San Diego airport just before he abandoned his trip, “I’ll have you arrested.”

It’s hard to feel safe in the skies when you have to worry not only about terrorists but our own air-traffic controllers conking out, watching movies and making boneheaded mistakes. A controller’s error on Monday evening put Michelle Obama’s plane frighteningly close to a 200-ton military cargo jet.

Ever since the Thanksgiving rebellion over intrusive new pat-downs that some have dubbed “gate-rape,” Americans have been debating security requirements versus privacy rights.

Consternation crackled again last week when a Kentucky couple posted video of their 6-year-old daughter being given the deep probe by a female T.S.A. agent in New Orleans.

“We felt that it was inappropriate,” the girl’s mother, Selena Drexel, told ABC News. “You know, we struggle to teach our child to protect themselves, to say ‘No, it’s not O.K. for folks to touch me in this way, in these areas.’ Yet, here we are saying, ‘Well, it’s O.K. for these people.’ ”

State Representative Sharon Cissna of Alaska has become a heroine for many women with breast cancer since she spoke out about the “twisted policy” of having the “invasive, probing hands of a stranger” on her, after scanners twice showed the scars from her mastectomy and she was ordered to undergo “humiliating” body searches.

The second time the Anchorage Democrat was told to do the pat-down in mid-February, returning to Juneau after getting medical treatment in Seattle, she refused. She rented a car, drove three hours into British Columbia, took a plane from Vancouver to the small town of Prince Rupert and then got on a ferry for a two-day trip to Juneau.

Her fellow lawmakers in the Last Frontier, where people have to travel by air quite a bit, passed a bill she co-sponsored pushing the T.S.A. to rethink its methods because “no one should have to sacrifice their dignity in order to travel.”

Cissna, 69, who said the aggressive pat-down also stirred unpleasant memories of a teenage molestation, said she has gotten more than a thousand letters. The Alaska Legislature has asked the U.S. Senate to hold hearings.

“I don’t have a huge war against T.S.A.,” she said on Monday. “I have a huge war against government that isn’t looking carefully enough at the people that it serves.”

She asserted that the system does not seem smartly tailored to focus on dangerous people rather than “good, law-abiding people.” So kids, seniors and those with disabilities, joint replacements and other medical conditions — things they already feel embarrassed about — end up getting harassed.

“Not only breast cancer veterans like myself,” she said, “but people who’ve had colostomies, any kind of alteration to their bodies that makes them look not absolutely 100 percent normal. And it is assaultive.”

Read more: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/20/opinion/20dowd.html?_r=1

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