Private Principalities

I have a sense that Facebook is about to score its first victory in the battle for civil liberties. Facebook has been ablaze with outrage over the new Porno Scanners at airports and their creepy human cousins, the Groping Agents. Facebook has managed to bring the issue into everyone’s consciousness the way that newspapers and the insipid dross that passes for news on the telly is no longer able to do.

I’m proud to say that I had my genitals gently brushed by a security agent before it was fashionable and, exhibitionist that I am, I’d be delighted to display blurry groin pictures to anyone who has the desire to see them.

But even though it doesn’t really bother me too much, I understand that other people are horrified by the idea of men in uniform having the unquestionable authority to touch your naughty bits and to use spy cameras to look up your crevices.

But that’s not really the point.

The point is that we the sheeple have accepted ever-spiraling intrusions without complaint and with no commensurate sense that we are getting any safer in return. I sense that the angry sheep are about to become a flock and bleat in unison and Facebook deserves a lot of the credit.

A brief history of travelling inconvenience:

  • X-Ray all my luggage? Sure, whatever!
  • Put my killer toothpaste in a separate little baggie? Seems like a waste of everyone’s time but I find it more silly than annoying.
  • Take off my coat? And my belt? And – what’s that? – my shoes too? If it makes someone feel better, super.

But if this rigmarole of humiliation actually deters any terrorists, it’s more likely that they can’t face the long lines on the route to martyrdom than that they have run out of places to hide their explosives…

Now let’s see…I can’t hide my bomb in my shoes, shampoo, jacket or under my belt any more. Where could I possibly shove this stick of dynamite where the security dude won’t find it?

Most of the uproar so far has focussed on the indignity of having your privates prodded or flashed up on a screen but the smarter commentators are starting to wonder where all this leads.

Kathleen Parker in the Orlando Sentinal imagines the TSA’s flights of erotic fantasy as frat party prank…

Is this really for our own good? Or are we trading what’s left of our human dignity by participating in a Kafkaesque farce that more closely resembles a college fraternity psychology experiment devised around a keg:

“OK, here’s the plan. Americans are terrified of an airplane bomber, right? So let’s see what how much we can get them to do if we promise them safety.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno, like let us touch their genitals and use scanners that show them naked, stuff like that.”

“No WAY!”

She goes on to imagine…

The idea of a stranger, even one of the same sex, foraging around my private principalities is simply unacceptable.

Heaven forbid the next inept, would-be terrorist conceals his flammables in his nether region. Shall soon our interior caves and corridors require exploration to ensure that the system works?

James Poulos, at Ricochet, imagines a little further.

My problem with what’s unfolding at our nation’s airports runs a lot deeper than the misfortune of genital encroachment. My problem is that we’re racing down an inherently absurd road. Set aside for a moment the dismaying way in which every new advance in security measures involves a retreat for civil liberties and traditional definitons of decency. Our logic of escalation appears to mean that every new solution actually creates a new and dramatically worse problem — one which calls, of course, for dramatically more invasive and comprehensive countermeasures.

Where does it end? As a matter of logic, it ends with a free people dehumanizing themselves in a way their own enemies cannot quite manage to do. Fortunately, we are not prisoners of logic. But the awful thing about terrorism is that it very well might keep us prisoner to fear.

How much of this process of our sheepification began, I wonder, with the RNC conference of 2004?

The decline in civil liberties is depressing enough, but some people have started to wonder who is getting rich from all this.

Ann Althouse in who is getting rich selling those see-you-naked scanners has some ideas (list edited by me):

  • 2005: Michael Chertoff, as head of Homeland Security, orders the first batch of porno scanners from a company called Rapiscan Systems. After his departure, Chertoff gave dozens of interviews using his government credentials to promote the device. What he didn’t tell people was that Rapiscan was one of the clients of his consulting company, The Chertoff group.
  • March 2009: The Department of Homeland Security says they will apply $1 billion in stimulus money to the nation’s airports. Senator Joe Lieberman, Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, personally promises to oversee the distribution of stimulus funds so money goes toward the goal of creating “4 million jobs” and not on “boondoggles”
  • In 2008, former U.S. Department of Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff authored a 38 page report warning of terrorists exploiting our security deficiencies — including air travel.
  • On Christmas Day 2009, just before the “attempted bombing incident” on board flight 253, there were a total of 40 body scanners in use in 19 airports in the U.S.
  • After the ‘bombing attempt’ Chertoff made a flurry of media appearances suggesting that the “attempted bombing incident” could have been avoided if all airports were using full body scanners.
  • The Washington Post printed an article on January 1, 2010, calling Chertoff out for using his government credentials to promote a product that benefits his clients. It was revealed that Rapiscan Systems, the manufacturer of the naked body scanner Chertoff was recommending, was a client of Chertoff’s security consulting agency.
  • Rapiscan has since received over $250 million in scanner orders.

Ann also wonders:

Now, I think this TSA issue has the potential to affect the political orientation of many individuals. How might the political parties and other political participants seize this opportunity?

and I wonder whether there is an opportunity for the less crazy tea partiers to make common cause with the Liberaltarians. I swear that a credible, non-lunatic party that is able to address to libertarians of both the left and right, would clean up.

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Ragged Clown

Based in San Jose, California

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