"Don't fly." That's Janet Napolitano's answer to those who oppose the regime of poke and grope that is today's Transportation Safety Agency. America is, after all, a land of choices. When you arrive at the airport, you can allow some complete stranger to irradiate you with a device that allows the operator to see you naked. Or you can allow some friendly security agent to put hands in places where they have no business. Or you can drive.
Before you jump out of line and into your car, however, be warned that you can be fined up to $11,000 for changing your mind at the airport. After all, we wouldn't want terrorists with hand grenades walking away from the screening area when they realize that all the rumors about metal detectors and such are true. If you're going to take Secretary Napolitano's advice, be sure that you opt not to fly before you reach the airport. The problem with this "if you can't stand the pat-down, get out of the terminal" attitude lies in its future. For now, Janet Napolitano says that "if people want to travel by some other means, they have that right." That seems reasonable enough on the surface, but is air travel the only option vulnerable to this sort of reasoning?
Update: Janet Napolitano is already mentioning the possibility of trains, subways, and ships being subject to security scans. hat tip: Shelagh Gray]
Let's imagine a really nasty scenario. Terrorists identify several particularly important rail corridors, perhaps ones that carry large amounts of coal to power plants. They smuggle explosives onto several passenger trains and detonate those bombs at critical spots on the railroad grid. Result? Perhaps hundreds of people are killed, but also rail transportation is severely compromised until repairs can be completed. In response, the Department of Homeland Security extends the TSA airport protocols to Amtrak stations.
If you don't like it, don't take the train. After all, rail travel is no more a right than air travel. The bus system could come next.
Come to think of it, so could travel by automobile. In order to stop the flow of drugs, illegal immigrants, right-wing militia types, contraband guns, junk food, Baptist missionaries, or some other threat to our continued existence, roadblocks appear just outside major cities. Here, we find that not only are the crevices of our bodies searched, but so are the contents of our cars.
If you don't like it, don't drive. Nowhere in that living document, the Constitution, are we assured of our right to move without hindrance from point to point by private automobile.
Couldn't we see pat-downs at football games, movie theatres, National Parks, or any of dozens of other locales? After all, if you don't like it, you don't have to go there.
You don't have to go to Wal-Mart or Target, Disney World or DollyWood.
Should we want to become totally paranoid, we can imagine this "if you don't like it" mentality being used for political purposes: "You don't have to visit the Fox News offices." "You don't have to travel to that red state." "You don't have to attend that Sarah Palin rally."
Am I being alarmist? Perhaps, but we have seen government overreaching plenty. In fact, extension of governmental intrusion and control seems to be one of the few bipartisan issues in our country. Several times recently, I have noticed the sheriff's department where I live with a roadblock set up just outside a local trailer park. In this blatant example of domicile profiling, the officers were stopping everyone who passed that way and checking license and insurance status. Alongside the several uniforms standing in the road was an officer in a car ready to chase down anyone who opted to turn around and avoid the stop. My license is in good shape, and my insurance card was up to date. Why should I mind this minor inconvenience? In reality, it didn't harm me in any meaningful way, but it left me feeling wronged.
I'm not sure that feeling slightly wronged by the police, the sheriff, or the TSA is always a bad thing. After all, they have a job to do. If they always wait for the bad guys to make the first move, then we end up with many more problems. The trick is to balance the intrusiveness of government with the liberties of the individual.
The path to a police state is never marked with road signs. It is instead littered with the debris of a hundred little surrenders, little concessions that seemed reasonable at the time. After all, who cares if I have to take off my shoes in order to jump a plane for Boston?
Should Secretary Janet "The System Worked" Napolitano want to explain to us how we are in imminent danger if we refuse to allow this sort of intrusive search, I'll be happy to listen. However, if the threat typically cited, the failed Christmas Day attack of 2009, is the true catalyst for all the groping, then one has to wonder why the peril remained unaddressed for almost a year.
To my suspicious eyes, the TSA's policy looks like either the decision of the utterly clueless or the machinations of the truly devious. Neither of these options gives me much comfort.
See also: A 'gradual depreciation' of rights