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The Empire’s New Clothes

November 22, 2010

There.  Are you happy now?  No?  Good.  It took you long enough.

The public has finally felt the invasion of privacy that has been slowly creeping its way throughout our polity, and apparently it had to take the form of a physical grasp.  Around our genitals.  What surprises me is that it took this long for people to realize that we have been witnessing (i.e., not fighting) an all-out battle between freedom and security that has been raging at least since 9/11.  It seems that now the Hegelian antithesis of the dialectic between freedom and authority has started to bottom-out in this particular swing; people are finally realizing the inherent connection between privacy and freedom.

To put it quite briefly, ever since 9/11, our country has had an unquestioned mandate for security at any cost; those who provide security are savvy producers, who recognize the severe inelasticity of demand for security, and can maximize their own profit by increasing the price of privacy.  That support has enabled a government panopticon, excessive para-military government contracts, and excessive military force against innocent civilians, all supposedly justified because “no cost is too high.”  Apparently these “patriotic” backers agree that American values and Constitutional rights are parts of the potential costs that would not be too high.  And now, predictably enough, this progression has finally led to full-body (backscatter) scanners that strip down one’s dignity so that TSA agents don’t have to.  What’s interesting is that this was the straw that broke the American’s back.

Perhaps this new resistance is because of the visceral feelings of violation and powerlessness that one can intuitively experience themselves simply from listening to the narrative.  That fits my psychological explanation of sympathy; one feels a greater sense of moral outrage when one believes that they themselves might have been victimized in the same way.  Examples, ripped from the headlines include: “Cancer surviving flight attendant forced to remove her prosthetic breast;” “a pair of nail clippers confiscated from armed soldier;” “pilots allowed to skip enhanced pat-downs;” and much, much more.  And the TSA is now saying that if you won’t submit to the screenings, you won’t fly.  Security is still fighting as hard as ever, while freedom has only started to figure out how to fight back.

Security has been on its taxpayer-fueled rampage, and it’s been thoroughly aided by the private sector that has figured out how to develop penetrating surveillance for commercial gain.  Just look at any website’s privacy policy and you’ll see that they will provide any and all of your personal information it could be “reasonably necessary” to “satisfy any applicable law, regulation, legal process or enforceable governmental request.”  That language comes from Google’s privacy policy, and where else do you deposit more of your private hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties than the search box?

Sorry folks, but our ability and willingness to share anything and everything about our lives need to be tempered by more restraint than we’ve been exercising.  It’s not self-censorship or unnecessary inhibition; it’s simply time to stop rewarding those who would take advantage of our openness.  If you affirmatively knew that the TSA agent was getting off on feeling you up, how would that make you feel?  How is it any different when it’s a corporate entity getting its nut?  For example, insurance companies have started to use Facebook and your Internet footprint to see if you’re a couch potato to determine how much to charge you for insurance.  Wonder-Tonic hits the satirical nail pretty much perfectly on the head:

TSA Announces Facebook Integration For Full Body Scanners

As the age-old saying goes, “if you have nothing to hide, then show me your asshole.”  Or post it to Facebook.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 22, 2010 11:52 am

    This TSA thing is insane and not that I needed an argument to sway me but the many I read over this weekend involving the trauma this causes to cancer patients, sexual abuse survivors and ANYONE who just wants to fly without having their body invaded took my this is not on stance to even higher levels.

    I remain less concerned about the FB issue though I’m internet weary enough to know I may one day regret that. That debt collectors are now using it to hunt people down ( probably pisses me off more than anything but stupid mid-20s me got into a lot of trouble with her credit cards and that lot has been on my bad list since.

  2. Dan Goodwin permalink
    November 30, 2010 2:38 am

    Best ending line evar. I’ve forwarded this article three times and I still laugh out loud each time I read it. If only it wasn’t so true…

  3. Shelby permalink
    December 9, 2010 11:14 am

    I’m literally not playing Devil’s Advocate when I say, I really don’t see how this as any worse than having an individual pat you down (back of the hands for “sensitive areas” thank you very much). As a person with a device that enables me to go through the metal detector, I would rather an agent take a sneak peek at my colon than grope my butt cheeks one at a time. Just sayin’.

    What I’m not “just sayin'” is that the violation of our civil liberties should be ignored. Freedom is the right of any individual living on this planet (like it or not) and we should still have a say in how we feel about feeling violated.

    • SlickRickSchwartz permalink*
      December 9, 2010 12:49 pm


      As you imply, I don’t think the real problem with the scanners is the actual degree of invasion so much as it is symbolic of the amount of mission creep we have been passively allowing, but have maybe started to resist.

      However, I do think the scanners are differently invasive in two important ways. First, unlike a pat-down, scanners are not inherently fleeting; they are digital image which can last forever. Second, and closely related, the pat-down is done by somebody right then and there. You know exactly what the extent of the pat-down is and who is experiencing it, whereas scanner images can be shared or replicated with anyone, all of which is outside your control and outside of your knowledge. What’s more, you can’t exactly fight back against lechery or abuse if it’s done inside a screening room hundreds of miles away, but you could shout out if the TSA guy gets frisky.

      Like you, that’s not to be a Devil’s Advocate…even though that may be exactly what I do for a living…hmm.


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