“Harassed, intimidated, humiliated” by the TSA

The first controversy to come out of the TSA’s more-stringent, more-invasive pat-down procedures was not, as many would have thought, about inappropriate touching. Instead, it is about Meg McLain, a libertarian blogger/filmmaker/activist, who has been all over the Internet with the story of how she was – in her words – “harassed, intimidated, humiliated” by the TSA.

She recounts in this recording from a conservative radio talk show how, on a trip through the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., airport she was swarmed by 12 police officers and seven TSA agents, handcuffed to a chair, and eventually escorted out because she declined both the full-body backscatter scan and the new, more-invasive pat-down that my colleague Charlie Howell discussed a few days ago. She also alleges that a TSA agent ripped up her ticket.

Of course this was enough to set the blogosphere, the interwebs, cable news and whatever else we’re using these days to “air our views” abuzz. TSA, in response, posted surveillance video of some of the incident. The portion they posted shows McLain arguing with several TSA officials, sitting in a chair crying and then being escorted – by one police officer – away.

Too often, people look at events like these through the most extreme of lenses. It’s either: Meg McLain is a provocateur who inflated the security problems she herself created just to make a point about TSA procedures. Or it’s: Meg McLain was a victim of overzealous, power-hungry security theater. You know what I think? I think it doesn’t matter what happened.

That’s right. Squabbling about what did or did not happen in Fort Lauderdale is not going to enlighten anyone on what to do about what’s at the core of this controversy: the tension between security and privacy. Coming to new conclusions on the best way to balance these two competing values will better more lives than will determining what happened to McLain. And while I do feel for her, her story should be used as a catalyst for discussion about the invasiveness body scanners, rather than an endless argument that stops constructive conversation dead.

In moving beyond what did or did not happen, we need to look at TSA procedures for handling passengers like McLain who reject both the body scan and the pat-down. Do they simply get sent home? Are there other, less-invasive ways of preventing contraband from reaching our airplanes? Or is this just something people will have to live with as our country undergoes increasing threats?

What do you think?

Posted by Laura Williams on Nov 12, 2010

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