Friday, November 19, 2010

Thoughts on TSA procedures

Not everyone agrees that security trumps all. Some people would sacrifice their security for other agendas. The terrorists are willing to die in order to earn their reputation in the next world. Similarly, many people would take the risk of giving up their lives rather than being subjected to sexual abuse. Jewish law requires one to give up his life in order to avoid engagement in certain promiscuous acts. Although most people agree that security is an important matter, some people would rather take on the extra risks than being subjected to intrusive searches. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has decided that the measures being taken (though admittedly intrusive) are the appropriate course of action given the circumstance of today's threats. They have implicitly decided that these intrusive measures are still worthwhile if they will save lives. But how intrusive does a search have to be before it's too much?

I don't fly too much, but I can see how people would be frustrated with the new screening techniques. The Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines basically allow security personnel to see right through peoples' clothing. Although the images are supposed to be deleted immediately, hundreds of pictures have already turned up on the Internet. One is allowed to opt out of these machines, but the alternative is an almost invasive pat-down. Many stories of humiliated passengers have been flooding the Internet, and pictures of these pat-downs have made headlines. It doesn't seem like there are too many options for those who fly. Either use the AIT machine but risk your picture being on the Internet, or take a pat-down but risk humiliation. There must be a better solution to this problem than to subject people to these screening measures.

Unfortunately, I can't think of any method of screening for terrorists that could be less intrusive. If we are trying to avoid all terrorist attacks then we must subject everyone to a thorough search. Terrorist have shown that they can hide explosives anywhere in their bodies. We must remove our shoes because of the shoe bomber, and we must endure a pat-down because of the underwear bomber. It seems like security comes with a price tag, and we must all pay it if we want to avoid all possible threats. Imagine a passenger with an explosive in his or her underwear. During a pat-down, the explosive device would be felt by the agent and a further investigation would be warranted. The passenger would be cursing the TSA through the whole procedure for being treated in such a humiliating manner. Once caught however, it would be clear that the procedure was worthwhile. With every new terrorist attack we will be forced to devise more intrusive security measures. With subway bombing we would have to screen subway passengers. With car bombing we will have to screen automobile drivers. With more and more security measures we will continue to lose more and more of our freedom. If we are willing to pay anything for security eventually we will be paying everything.


  1. To put it very very bluntly, ask any family member of someone whose relative was killed in 9/11 or any other hijacking. The answer they give you to how intrusive a search is before it's too much is the best answer.

    One has to keep in mind that a slew of steps have to take place before their naked bodies are prominently displayed for the world to see on the internet and they're embarrassed for forever more. 1) Their particular picture gets uploaded onto the internet. 2) Someone finds it. 3) The person who finds it has the know-how to convert it into an image that looks like a person as opposed to a blob of white. 4) The someone that found it knows the victim. Although that could all happen theoretically, it's unlikely, is it not?

    I'm more concerned about the halachic ramifications of it. Are the screeners of the AIT always the same sex as the person walking through? If not, can a female screener watch a male Jew go through and can a male screener watch a female Jew go through? It isn't the same color as one's skin, but does that matter? Hmm... Then again, one would hope (legally, it's probably our right) that you can request your gender to look at your image.

    I think you're blowing things out of proportion by saying that we'll be losing our freedom. People live like this in Israel and they can walk around feeling perfectly comfortable in most of the country because they know that they're safe. Do you think they are less "free" than us? Yes, there are certain places that are very dangerous, but there are places like that here as well, and we think we're free. I don't see how we're losing our freedom because security measures are being put into place.

  2. Maybe you are right. I don't claim that there is anything wrong with what they are doing. I am just a little worried about what measures will eventually need to be taken in order to keep us safe. I personally would not feel comfortable with either a pat-down or the AIT Machines. I take it that you would be more inclined to use the AIT before having a pat-down.

    I don't think they particular about having the same gender looking at your naked picture (the pat-down is done by same gender though). I don't think these TSA employees are Jewish, so I don't think they have any halcha issues.

    I think you should read my post on freedom if you want to hear my opinion on your last point.