We’re all terrorists until proven innocent


Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part article on TSA’s airport security system. Karen Cummings first looks at her philosophical disagreements with TSA procedures and in the next article will deal with her defense against the TSA security machine.

4th Amendment — part of the Bill of Rights
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated”

14th Amendment
“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Yes, the six-year-old girl patted down at the airport, definitely a terrorist. My brother’s 85-year-old blind mother-in-law made to get up from her wheelchair and stand precariously with her feet spread in a scanning machine – Oh, yes, she was a terrorist all right, until they determined that she wasn’t hiding a bomb in her underwear or her support hose. Those two had no right “to be secure in their persons,” nor do any of us who choose or have to fly anywhere these days.

Remember the time when you used to get dressed up to fly somewhere? Flying was something special. That was the era when you checked in and walked right to your gate without having to remove your shoes, your coat, your sweater, your belt, your change, your scarves, your computer, your toiletries – just about everything you so painstakingly packed or put on just before you went to the airport.

In fact, back then, friends and family used to be able to accompany you to your gate and kiss you good-bye before you boarded the plane and even wave from the windows as you taxied away. I miss those days. Traveling there was part of the fun, not just after arriving at your destination.

Now as I get ready to fly anywhere for business or pleasure, I think, plan and pack as though I were going into combat.

In a sense, I am. The ultimate goal of my almost covert operation is to get to my gate without being directed by the all-powerful TSA agent to the dreaded whole-body scanner. The machine that will see through my clothes and ultimately determine that I am not the terrorist they assume I am, at least on that day.

Really, my goal is not to thwart their efforts to determine I’m not a terrorist. My goal is only to stay secure in my person against an unreasonable search, which I consider my right as a U.S. citizen. I am a 65-year-old grandmother and a law-abiding U.S. citizen. The worst civil offense I’ve ever committed in my lifetime is getting a parking ticket.

I refuse to go through the scanners in an effort to make a statement against the use of these invasive machines in the name of security. Here are my main reasons why:

First, my aforementioned 4th amendment rights. I think that as an American citizen, I am guaranteed the right to not be subjected to unreasonable search and seizure (really, taking my 3/4ths-used tube of toothpaste was beyond the beyond don’t you think?).

Second, I don’t trust the TSA or Homeland Security or the manufacturers of the scanners when they say the radiation levels are safe. In my opinion, I get more than enough radiation in my everyday life, considering that we have no idea of the environmental factors that are affecting us. Having worked at a renowned cancer hospital for many years, I feel justified in saying “no, thanks” to any extra radiation no matter how miniscule they tell us it is.

Third, come on, do you really think this going to catch the next batch of terrorists? They put on a good act, but all of the TSA’s measures are supreme examples of shutting the barn door once the horse has gotten out. Taking your shoes off. The liquid ban. And now the scanners so they can see (or else feel) our underwear.

It’s insanity.

I am truly shocked at how many people blithely comply with this invasion of our privacy, this blatant flaunting of our 4th amendment rights. “As long as we’re safe,” they say. How they can stand by when they see old ladies and children frisked, the infirm made to struggle out of their wheelchairs so they can be scanned, even a baby’s booties being scanned for, I presume, bombs (yes, saw that on a recent trip).

Next: Defensive actions to mitigate this TSA invasion of privacy.

Photo: Photoshop by Leocha

  • JoeInAtlanta

    Putting your breathless and dramatic criticisms aside, there’s no such thing as the “4th Amendment to the Bill of Rights” nor the “14th Amendment to the Bill of Rights”. What you have quoted are the 4th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The first 10 amendments, taken as a group, are known as the “Bill of Rights” — so the 4th is one of them (but not an amendment to them); the 14th is not.

    If you’re going to present yourself as an expert in how these clauses should affect federal law and TSA practice, you should at a bare minimum know what they are called.

  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha

    Corrected. My fault.

  • AKFlyer

    JoeInAtlanta, I guess what your saying is that we have to pass some sort of Constitutional Law literacy test before we are covered by the Bill of Rights’ protections. Here’s a pop quiz for you:

    1) Which Amendment specifies the requirement that one be able to cite the Constitution accurately before claiming its protections?

    2) What have our federal courts ruled about the Constitutionality of literacy tests for federal voting? (Something that was particularly popular in your part of the country. during the civil rights movement.)

    2) The Declaration of Independence asserts we possess “certain inalienable Rights.” What does “inalienable” mean in this context?

    I went to law school, but I already knew the answers to these questions.

  • Hapgood

    I have to defend the TSA (yes, Frank!). They have a bifurcated mandate to reassure the public that flying is safe (from the specific threat of terrorists) while attempting to prevent future terrorist attacks.

    The first part is actually very important and very necessary. Unfortunately, the second part is impossible. The only thing that has any chance of protecting aviation from terrorists is competent, coordinated intelligence and old-fashioned police work that stops plotters before they get anywhere near an airport. Once they get to an airport checkpoint, it’s too late.

    The TSA is handling their mandates in the only way possible for a bloated bureaucracy shrouded in secrecy and unconstrained by any systematic oversight, cost-benefit analysis, or accountability for effectiveness.

    First, because terrorists are so rare and so protean, the TSA has no way to identify terrorists in a crowd of innocent passengers. And even if the Deity somehow gifted John Pistole with a Mystical Vision of an Infallible Classified Terrorist Profile, the low-level flunkies at the checkpoints could never be relied on to apply it (or to do anything else) with the necessary consistent competence.

    The only possible approach, then, is to treat every traveler as an enemy terrorist until screening (supposedly) proves them innocent. That’s the TSA’s underlying operating philosophy, as clearly reflected in the way they screen passengers. Some screeners have enough common sense to treat the presumed enemy with courtesy, and to and apply their agency’s jumble of reactive rules as equitably as possible. But enough screeners are uninterested in and/or incapable of doing that to give the agency a bad reputation. One problem is that the TSA seems to tolerate or even encourage the latter group of screeners.

    Second, the TSA does seem to be doing a pretty good job of convincing the public that their hassles and layers keep aviation safe. When an “incident” occurs, the agency quickly react with new rules and restrictions that are intentionally highly visible and intrusive, to show travelers that the TSA is Doing Everything They Can to keep aviation safe.

    It doesn’t matter whether all those visible and intrusive measures actually provide any real security. What does matter is that enough people BELIEVE that it does. That’s what “security theatre” is all about. And it has been very successful. Many people do believe in the TSA. They have enough faith to willingly surrender their rights, privacy, and basic human dignity that in ways they’d never accept anywhere else. And they’ll even even speak out to defend what the TSA does when critics dare to challenge the effectiveness and intrusiveness of the measures.

    Security theatre is valuable because it protects the aviation industry from the IRRATIONAL FEAR of terrorism. The risk of being killed in a traffic accident on the way to the airport is several orders or magnitude greater than the risk of being killed by terrorists, but it’s terrorism that (by design) terrorizes people. Security theatre at airports is thus, in itself, appropriate and beneficial.

    Security theatre becomes a problem when it becomes so onerous and intrusive that it deters people from flying. It becomes a problem when it creates more difficulty for millions of innocent travelers than for the handful of serious terrorists (a problem with so many “security” measures). It becomes a problem when it involves the expenditure of billions of dollars on methods and technology without adequate testing or proof of effectiveness. It becomes a problem when it includes measures whose intrusiveness humiliates and traumatizes passengers, or involves exposure to unknown levels of radiation while leaving them unable to safeguard their valuables. It becomes a problem when the head of the agency insists that he doesn’t care what we think about the measures and will do whatever they alone decide to do.

    Some people prefer to ignore these problems, because of their unshakable faith that the TSA keeps them safe. Others get upset about them, and get even more upset when they see that both the TSA and their elected representatives are deaf to their concerns. The unfortunate reality seems to be that anyone who chooses to fly must unquestioningly and unhesitatingly accept whatever the TSA screener decides to inflict on them. And nothing any of us can do will change that.

    It will be interesting to see what Ms Cummings proposes to “mitigate this TSA invasion of privacy.” As far as I know, the only effective mitigation strategy is to give up flying.

  • John

    @Karen … If you are going to play lawyer, at least get the law correct. TSA checkpoints are inspections and not searches. While the wording may seem to be semantics, it makes a world of difference constitutionally. TSA checkpoints would fall into the same legal area as DUI checkpoints, truck inspection stations, BMV inspection stations, border crossings, federal building entry inspections etc. Basically as long as TSA announces that there will be checkpoint present ahead of time (for the fixed checkpoints don’t move and are posted and the chance of a roving inspection after the checkpoint is posted) and entry is optional, both of which are true, your 4th amendment right has not been violated and now search existed. You made the choice to enter the checkpoint knowing that you would be inspected.

    Granted the lawyers will now jump on and tell me how I over simplified things but you get the concept.

  • Robert Gronowski

    Tuesday night my wife and I were flying from Miami to SFO and were told that TSA Agents were at the gate and we had to show a picture ID to board the plane. This should not be required to fly domestic flights. We had already provided picture id to get through security. This is a waste of resources.

  • Frank

    The first part is actually very important and very necessary. Unfortunately, the second part is impossible. The only thing that has any chance of protecting aviation from terrorists is competent, coordinated intelligence and old-fashioned police work that stops plotters before they get anywhere near an airport. Once they get to an airport checkpoint, it’s too late.

    I have to say, I think that’s one of the reasons we see these terror attempts coming FROM overseas, TO the United States.

    And, the US has by far the MOST AIRPORTS in the World. We havent had a hi-jacking, a breach of the cockpit, an air rage death, etc..etc. since 9-11. Security theatre scaring everyone away? Hapgood?

  • jan

    Simple or complicated… the world we live in today is different then the world we lived in yesterday, let alone fifty years ago. To think terrerests only live on one side of the US border would be nieve at best. I am a world traveler and a grandmother… search me and get on with it… I’d be a whole lot more put off if the old lady on my plane was planted with a bomb and they didnt catch it.

  • Hapgood

    Frank, the real reason there hasn’t been a hijacking since that Sacred Day in 2001 is that I developed an anti-hijacking spray. I spray some into the air every day, and it works infallibly. The TSA would like us to believe it’s all because of their inconsistently enforced liquid restrictions, the removal of shoes, and now the groovy groping. But it’s really because of my anti-hijacking spray. It’s marvelously effective. I can’t tell you what’s in it because it’s classified for reasons of national security. But you’ll have to trust me on that.

  • Josh Lamb

    Business as usual. 

    Why do people feel they must bring people down when they don’t agree. Does it honestly matter where our rights are written? The fact is our rights exist, yet they are violated on a daily bases. And WE ARE DEFENDING THIS invasion. Our inalienable rights as humans are being taken away. It doesn’t matter if our rights are written on paper or on stone. I know what I deserve as a person for “given rights,” without being told what I can stand for and what some one can do to me. 

    More compassion and courage. To stand for what you believe in and know what you believe is good or evil.  People can pick people apart and feel right but does it matter? What’s it help or hurt?

    I am so happy you wrote this article. I understood what you ment. Thank you for having the courage and knowledge to speak out! Do t you wish people would open their eyes. Open a book and realize things are not right. Something is WRONG! 

    Too little too late airliners… The planes ready went down. And apparently we had procedures in place to prevent such an attack. Inside job or not terrorist still attacked us. God bless you all!

    ——— Free Mind, Freedom of person, freedom

      free·dom Noun   /ˈfrēdəm/  
    noun: liberty, independence, license, licence
    freedoms plural
    The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint
    we do have some freedom of choice
    he talks of revoking some of the freedoms
    Absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government
    he was a champion of Irish freedom
    The state of not being imprisoned or enslaved
    the shark thrashed its way to freedom
    The state of being physically unrestricted and able to move easily
    the shorts have a side split for freedom of movement
    The state of not being subject to or affected by (a particular undesirable thing)
    government policies to achieve freedom from want
    The power of self-determination attributed to the will; the quality of being independent of fate or necessity
    Unrestricted use of something
    the dog is happy having the freedom of the house when we are out
    Familiarity or openness in speech or behavior

    this the “definition” of freedom. I found it on google. I know people have a problem with facts they have never heard and discount unknown or different information. We must do our own homework to learn anything is so true. I don’t believe that freedom could evor be defined. Giving something a definition so subjectable is impossible. An example is the right to murder someone. Technicaly yes, but what is the consequence? It’s too bad people resort to this since we are supposed to be the “superiour species” on Earth. I could go on for hours and I doubt anyone will read what I have written and take it to heart. But if you truly believe. You speak your mind anyway and hope someone has an ear open. If no one speaks then we have no chance…

  • http://cebuanddavao.com/ nonoy

    I absolutely agree that passengers are indeed all terrorists until or unless proven innocent. It’s like a name of a court’ justice in reverse in most countries. I’m really get annoyed even the security in my local air travels in my country Philippines. How much more the TSA in international flights.

    To me it just takes common sense for the securities to maintain flight and avoid terrorism. They should look beyond the threat itself; true that they should always assure a secure and safe flight, but it’s their own minds that make the threats themselves.

  • http://[email protected] Jeff Buske

    Rocky Flats Gear makes truly defensive radiation protective garments, they have TSA/DSA approved colors. The scan is a search with out a warrant and puts you at medical heath risk. The reason for the “enhanced pat-down” is to get you in the scanner. About 5% of US have DNA repair issues (BRCA gene) and more prone to cancer. Want to learn more about radiation and protection? Hope this helps. Jeff

  • Pingback: Weekend what we’re reading: Miss America groped by TSA, French find flight 447 black box, canabalizing planes for parts()

  • http://[email protected] Jeff Buske

    Well said. Mass irradiation of millions exposure to soft xrays breast and skin cancer will increase. Our borders are transparent and with new supper x-ray scanners so are we.


  • http://www.tripso.com/author/leocha Charlie Leocha
  • Em Hoop

    TSA checkpoints would fall into the same legal area as DUI checkpoints, truck inspection stations, BMV inspection stations, border crossings, federal building entry inspections etc.
    Ah, John. I’ve never had to strip or be intrusively patted down at a DUI checkpoint. Nor for entering a federal building, so far. Any truckers out there been strip searched at the inspection station? Tell us all about it, if you have…..

    Semantics…..the exploitation of connotation and ambiguity–as in propaganda.
    To you it’s an inspection, to me, it’s a search.