Airport Security: How Far is Too Far?
The aftermath of the terrorists’ acts on September 11 still plague America in decisions made regarding security, as evinced in the recent news article, “Woman arrested at ABIA after refusing enhanced pat down,” by Jim Bergamo. Not the first troubling story to arise following the tightened airport security, the account of 56-year-old Claire Hirschkind adds yet another tale to the growing cannon of questionable actions committed for the sake of national security. According to the news article, Hirschkind encountered a snafu at the Austin-BergstromInternationalAirport while waiting to catch a flight to California for Christmas. Hoping to visit friends for the holidays, Hirschkind was delayed when a device in her chest akin to a pacemaker set off the security devices.
In the event that a security device alerts a problem, the Transportation Security Administration’s policy sets out two options: either don’t fly or submit to an enhanced pat down. For Hirschkind, a rape victim, this meant allowing security officials to feel her breasts. Upon being told this, Hirschkind vehemently refused, saying that she would accept the use of a wand instead. After Hirschkind objected to this kind of treatment, saying it violated her constitutional rights, she said, “the police actually pushed me to the floor, (and) handcuffed me. I was crying by then. They drug me 25 yards across the floor in front of the whole security.”
Although other passengers sympathized with Hirschkind’s plight, the article notes their acceptance of what happened. The law is the law, after all. “It is unfortunate that that happened and she didn’t get to fly home, but it makes me feel safer,” fellow traveler Emily Protine states in the article. Sentiments expressed by the fellow travelers don’t fall far from the TSA’s statement regarding its treatment of Hirschkind. Regarding security matters, Hirschkind’s situation, though unfortunate, was unavoidable, according to TSA’s statement. “Security is not optional,” the statement concluded. Information in the report later noted that only three percent of passengers get an enhanced pat down.
Looking at the sentiments expressed by the travelers, it’s difficult not to connect the statements back to 9/11. Before September 11, airport security, while present, went largely unnoticed. Families and friends could greet returning loved ones at the door of the returning loved one instead of having to wait behind the gate. My mom could even carry her embroidery scissors onto the plane. Yet the events of September 11 in many ways rammed into our consciousness the need for security and to ensure that such a horrific event would never be repeated. The sudden awareness of our vulnerability and desire for safety means permitting the continuation of unfortunate situations like what happened with Hirschkind. It means accepting more and more of the seemingly ridiculous measures made in the quest for security – especially around the holidays when a terrorist act would have more emotional impact.
Although Hirschkind is not the last or the most noticeable person to have suffered from tightened security measures, her situation does present something of a unique problem. Should Hirschkind, a rape victim, been subject to the enhanced pat down coupled with the violent treatment following her refusal? In the quest to make America safer, is it for the best that Hirschkind should be denied the right to refuse treatment that would be even more psychologically damaging because of her past victimization? For that matter, while the other passengers have the vantage point of looking on and approving as someone undergoes standard procedure for suspicious activity, would their opinion of the situation change if it were they who became suspect for a condition they couldn’t control? Just how many rights should Americans surrender to enhance national security?
Regardless of your thoughts on whether TSA’s actions were or weren’t right, it is well worth examining the balance between retaining our rights and giving them up for national security especially with documents like the Patriot Act and security devices that are able to scan every part of your body and display results that are almost pornographic in nature. While tightened security measures might be desirable, how many rights should be surrendered for the sake of security? In thinking about this issue, I can’t help remembering V for Vendetta, a film that examines what happens when a country’s citizens give up many of their rights for the sake of greater security following the terrorist attack killing millions. Based on the graphic novel, the film is a well-written, intelligent film that has inescapable connections for an American audience living post 9/11. Although the position the film takes is doubtless extreme, the film presents the kind of society that might happen if concern for national security is taken without consideration for constitutional rights. After reading a story like Hirschkind, it’s hard not to wonder just what should be sacrificed for national security.
In the News
- On body scans and pat downs | Twin Cities Daily Planet
- Pat-downs to conitnue at US airports for \'foreseeable future\' - World - DNA
The US homeland security czar today said the controversial full-body scanners and invasive pat-downs, which had sparked an outrage in India earlier this month, will remain in place for the 'foreseeable future,' at airports around the country.
- Napolitano: Invasive scans, pat-downs unlikely to change - The Hill\'s Blog Briefing Room
passengers and said they are part of a broader security strategy. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday that controversial new airport security procedures are likely to remain in place because they have been effective.
- Woman arrested at ABIA after refusing enhanced pat down | kvue.com | Austin, Texas News | KVUE | Aus
Early Wednesday morning, a computer glitch shut down a security checkpoint for a couple of hours at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.
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