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November 17, 2010

TSAWith the year’s biggest travel day fast approaching and with new airport security regulations in place, the media is buzzing about measures the TSA is imposing upon travelers in order to keep the skies safe. Popular news aggregators like Drudge Report are giving this extra attention, perhaps making it seem a bigger story than it actually is. Yet in recent days all of the major outlets have also been picking up on it. Everyone’s talking about what we have to go through in order to fly. Since the TSA was created in the wake of 9/11, it has gradually been clamping down, demanding more and more restrictions on how we travel, what we travel with, and how we will be screened before we do so. And sooner or later people are going to say, “Enough is enough.” It seems like the latest measures may have pushed people toward that tipping point.

It’s an interesting conundrum we find ourselves in. Most of us travel by air on a regular or at least semi-regular basis. And all of us want to enjoy peace of mind while we are cruising along at 550 miles per hour. And so we welcome some level of screening—the kind of screening that allows the 99.99% of us who have no evil intentions to pass through quickly, easily and conveniently, but at the same time ensures that all the bad guys will get caught. We know that there are millions and millions of innocent people processed through those lines in order to weed out the very few terrorists.

It’s the humiliation that most people object to, I think. Before 9/11 airport security was a slight annoyance, but by no means a major bother. But then the rules changed. They had to, I suppose. But soon we were taking off our shoes, then having to ensure we had only travel-size cosmetics, and then actually take those cosmetics out so the TSA could see them. And then came the infamous full body scanners, the machines that digitally remove your clothes so the agents can peer underneath to see what you might be carrying on or in your body. Of course it also gives them a pretty good view of the particulars of your body. The alternative, should you choose to opt out of the scanner, is a thorough pat-down, one that is quite invasive and involves hands rubbing over the inner thigh, the genitals and the breasts. I went through one of these last time I flew and it involved all of that, including hands inside the waistline. It was conducted professionally and by a member of the same sex, but it was still more than a little unnerving.

So what is the TSA to do? They are between a rock and a hard place, between their mandate to protect the skies and passengers who are ready to say, “Enough!”