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Pioneer Editorial: We can do without the pat-downs

Americans want to feel safe when taking commercial air flights, especially after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But there is a limit. That limit has apparently been reached in recent days with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's inst...

Americans want to feel safe when taking commercial air flights, especially after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. But there is a limit.

That limit has apparently been reached in recent days with the U.S. Transportation Security Administration's installation of scanners at most major airports, accompanied by "pat-downs," a manual process of patting down a passenger.

Some are calling for a boycott of air travel on Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, to protest the heightened security measures.

It's the pat-downs that have crossed the line. Passengers find the practice most humiliating, as a TSA employee runs their hands up and down the passenger's body, groping and not missing any part of the anatomy. Many characterize it as a form of strip search, another humiliating practice.

But strip searches are usually conducted to prisoners or would-be prisoners, especially where there is overabundant probable cause that the person presents a danger to the public or is hiding contraband.

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But a middle-aged businessman in a suit headed to a meeting in Chicago? A young mother of three flying home to have grandmother see the grandkids?

A CBS News poll found that 81 percent of Americans approve of the scanners, while 15 percent disapprove. But that's as far as most people want to go. The scanners allow TSA observers a greater degree of security, more than a metal detector, but also to view the body under the clothes.

Still, it is not as intrusive as a hands-on manual pat-down of a passenger, where most people would draw the line. Pat-downs should be reserved only to those in imminent danger of arrest, where there is definite probable cause of danger to the public with concealed weapons or of hidden contraband.

The American public wants to travel safely, but not in fear. The use of electronic scanners borders on that, but the use of pat-downs crosses that line. To travel in fear means the terrorists have won without firing a shot or blowing up one bomb.

TSA should back off from using pat-downs, and more aggressively educate the public on options to make commercial air travel more safe. But it appears scanners are here to stay.

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