Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Toledo Blade Editorial... Grin and bear it

From the Toledo Blade...
Grin and bear it

Perhaps one day, there will be a way to guarantee absolute security from terrorists on commercial airliners that won't inconvenience passengers. But not today. So the question Americans should be asking themselves is how much embarrassment and inconvenience they are willing to endure to keep flying safe for all of us.

The uproar over full-body scanners and more intrusive pat-downs reached a crescendo just in time for the busiest air-travel day of the year - the day before Thanksgiving. "Don't touch my junk" has become the battle cry of the traveling public.

Some people are even calling for all travelers on Wednesday to opt out of being scanned or patted down. Transportation Security Administration agents are accused of being voyeurs and gropers by libertarian travelers who claim that being scanned or touched is a violation of their fundamental rights as Americans.

That's unfair to the majority of TSA agents, who get no pleasure from the extra security measures and attempt to make them as painless and noninvasive as possible for passengers. Travelers should complain when agents go too far - and there have been some disturbing stories.

The alternative opponents offer is to profile Muslim men. But law-abiding Muslims in America do not lose more of their right to privacy because some terrorists share their religion or ethnicity. In a democratic society, we all share the indignity.

We could choose to go back to previous, less invasive and less thorough security procedures - or not to check anyone. But the underwear and shoe bombers have made clear that those are not really options.

Full-body scanners have been installed at some 65 U.S. airports, including Detroit Metropolitan Airport. They are not in use all the time, but when they are, air travelers should remember that the radiation involved is minimal, that the images are not saved and are only seen by one person - who is likely bored - in a separate room, and that not even your spouse or mother could recognize you in the image.

Could the system be tweaked to make it less offensive? The TSA has changed its mind about making pilots go through the scanner. And Tom Pistole, head of the TSA, suggested there would be further refinements and adjustments in the process.

Will there be problems? Again, yes. And everyone must make sure the federal government responds to those problems. But full-body scans and pat-downs are the current price of relatively safe air travel.

If you're adamantly opposed to both screening methods, maybe you shouldn't travel by air. Drive, take the train, or stay home instead. But if you do fly, the best way to avoid being touched is - dare we say? - to grin and virtually bear it.

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