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Enduring the bare necessities in airport screening

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By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, November 21, 2010

In the accelerating debate about airport pat-downs that feel like a clumsy third date and body scans that border on Peeping Tom shows, it's hard to find a sane place to land.

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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:

"Okay, here's the plan. Americans are terrified of an airplane bomber, right? So let's see what 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!"

In the three weeks since the Transportation Security Administration began its new scanner/pat-down procedures, hundreds of people have protested. Some have reported to consumer agencies and the American Civil Liberties Union that they've been touched aggressively in the genital area. Others have reported inappropriate commentary about their physiques.

Fair question: Is all this worth it? What price in dignity and privacy are we willing to pay for the illusion of safety? It's not as though flying is a delightful experience with out the sexual harassment.

This Thanksgiving Eve, some number of unhappy travelers are planning to demonstrate their opposition to the TSA's expanded powers by protesting at security check-in or by boycotting travel altogether. Reassurances from the TSA, meanwhile, are less than edifying.

Even though, yes, the scans essentially reveal your jock and bra size, inspectors are sitting elsewhere and don't know the human identity of the exposed corpus.

Nor, we can guess, do they care. The absence of nudist airports isn't on many lists of society's regrettable oversights.

Those who wish not to submit to the body scan, whether out of modesty or concerns about radiation exposure, can submit instead to intimate frisking. Children under 12 are given modified pat-downs, though this isn't much comfort. Touching a 13-year-old boy or girl, possibly the most sensitive creature on the planet, is supposed to be just hunky-dory?


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