Drudge is trumpeting a Texas House bill to rein in TSA pat-downs as a rebuke to “Big Sis,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano. But it’s not a rebuke at all — the Texas legislature has just done Napolitano and TSA a tremendous favor.
If the bill becomes law, Texas will be on its way to becoming the first state to deprive air travelers of the option not to go through TSA’s pornoscanners. It’s not as if the agency recognizes any fundamental right not to be subject to the scanners, after all. The pat-downs began as a PR move, easing resistance to the introduction of the scanners by giving travelers a (conditional) choice. The ensuing outrage over “groping” is probably not what TSA was going for, but that too serves a purpose: it sensationalizes the problem and makes the scanners seem less objectionable by contrast. (I’m not inclined to think TSA planned it that way, but then, the agency has been known to experiment with traveler psychology).
Won’t it be a wonderful victory for civil liberties when the problem of intimate searches is solved and we can all go back to being X-rayed whenever we fly? I’m reminded of Brian Doherty’s TAC piece “Dignity Doesn’t Fly,” in which he noted how quickly we forget the freedoms we once enjoyed when traveling. When all the fuss about TSA’s bad touching is over, who will even remember objections to the scanners?
If Texas Rep. David Simpson, sponsor of the legislation, and his allies are really concerned about travelers’ dignity, they shouldn’t ban only the most egregious of TSA’s abuses. They should target the agency itself.