The Spectacle Blog

Our Airports and Us

By on 11.18.10 | 11:50AM

Rep. Ron Paul has introduced the American Traveler Dignity Act, which would strip away some of the TSA's power over travelers by denying them immunity for any crimes committed in airport security stemming from their new invasive search procedures. Here's the complete text of the bill, H.R. 6416:

A BILL

To ensure that certain Federal employees cannot hide behind immunity.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. NO IMMUNITY FOR CERTAIN AIRPORT SCREENING METHODS.

No law of the United States shall be construed to confer any immunity for a Federal employee or agency or any individual or entity that receives Federal funds, who subjects an individual to any physical contact (including contact with any clothing the individual is wearing), x-rays, or millimeter waves, or aids in the creation of or views a representation of any part of a individual's body covered by clothing as a condition for such individual to be in an airport or to fly in an aircraft. The preceding sentence shall apply even if the individual or the individual's parent, guardian, or any other individual gives consent.

And here's Paul introducing the bill on the House floor: 

Meanwhile, Seth Masket writes a piercing observation of people outraged by the TSA's new measures: 

That said, this is not the great civil rights battle of our time.... What's going on in the airports is simply a form of government humiliation that has hit the professional class. 

There is something to this. The uproar over the TSA's new assaults on the freedom and dignity of airplane travelers is reminiscent of the constant whining of the professional class, led by Thomas Friedman, that the U.S. is falling behind developing countries because our infrastructure and our airports are in worse condition than theirs. The vast majority of Americans never use those airports or those roads, and would never trade even the tiny amount of money necessary per person in higher taxes for shiny new infrastructure projects. Only the relatively small amount of people who use those airports and roads on a regular basis -- i.e., people like Friedman -- care about how gleaming they are. The same is true for the TSA complaints. Most people do not travel by air often, and nevertheless constantly face petty embarrassments at the hands of the government, by any number of federal, state, and local agencies. 

Yet there is something new and more problematic about the TSA's assault on travelers. Even if the outrage over the TSA's methods is a uniquely professional-class phenomenon, it's still troubling. The professional class is by definition a group with some power. If people in a position to change things would rather suffer routine humiliation at the hands of the government than take action, whether it be legal or political, then we're in bad shape as a culture. If, in the name of safety, the government can regularly and casually violate the personal freedom and dignity of the country's jet-setters -- without making us any safer -- it seems to me we're on a slippery slope. 

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