TSA and American liberty


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"If you touch my junk, I'm gonna have you arrested."

With that, many of us became libertarians — at least as it pertained to invasive and improper airport screening.

Public ire over the Transportation Security Administration's "enhanced" security measures reached a fever pitch last week.

John Tyner, who said the aforementioned quote, has become a YouTube sensation and a media darling.

Organizers of National Opt-Out Day encouraged individuals not to fly on Nov. 23. The American Civil Liberties Union recently reported it has received more than 900 complaints in November over the transportation agency's "groin-groping" tactics.

Clearly, something is awry.

In spite of the frustration felt by many, the pat-downs and body scanners are part of the government's effort to keep us safe. From terrorism of course.

Writing in USA Today, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reminds us that:

"Al Qaeda and those inspired by its ideology are determined to strike our global aviation system and are constantly adapting their tactics for doing so … We face a determined enemy. Our security depends on us being more determined and more creative to adapt to evolving threats. It relies upon a multilayered approach that leverages the strengths of our international partners, the latest intelligence, and the patience and vigilance of the American traveling public."

This should be nothing new to the American public. Since 9/11, we have ceded civil liberties and allowed for the expansion of the executive branch to conduct its war on terror.

Think Patriot Act, domestic wiretapping of cell phones (read: spying), and suspension of habeas corpus. Consider the indefinite imprisonment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, and a sprawling intelligence structure. The thought or sight of a government employee fondling grandma may upset you, but that should be the least of your worries.

Americans have accepted that we live in a world fraught with danger. That as we are going about our everyday lives, the terrorists are plotting and pining to kill us.

Two costly wars and billions of dollars later, the reassuring veneer of security still eludes us. It is likely that we are as safe as we were on Sept. 10, 2001. International terrorism poses less of a threat to American security than auto accidents. The response since 9/11 has been more than an overreaction. The accumulation of our efforts to thwart terrorism has been divorced from sobriety and closed to critique.

And sadly, there's been a peculiar continuity between the self-described wartime President George W. Bush and the former constitutional-law professor turned President Barack Obama. The simplistic demarcations of left and right have been turned on their heads.

When it comes to the powers of the state to say invoke secrecy, suspend the rights of prisoners, or expand a misbegotten war, both parties back big government. Where are the champions of liberty now?

I didn't fly over the Thanksgiving holiday, although I imagine many students did. I couldn't help but find all the fuss over the transportation agency's security measures perplexing, though.

Yes, I was also incensed. But the anger is completely misplaced. Much of the American public has made a tacit agreement with the government that it's willing to cede individual liberty and power to the executive branch for national-security reasons.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Page Editor Paul Gigot recently said, "I think the danger here is that the public begins to revolt against these kinds of security procedures. And then you risk losing public support, not just for airport screenings but for the whole war on terror and the whole national-security regime post-9/11."

Let's hope so.

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