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Lennard Davis Headshot

Don't Put Down the Airport Pat-Down!

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You have to wonder about the uproar around enhanced pat-downs and body-imaging machines. Libertarians are seeing the sanctioned search as an infringement of our inherent right to remain undisturbed by governmental hands. Leftists see the imaging machines as yet another example of increasing surveillance by the military-industrial complex. Social conservatives don't like the idea of their private parts being touched or ogled by possibly lascivious strangers. There's something for everyone to hate in what the TSA is doing.

I'm wondering if the truth is that Americans don't like the pat-downs and body imaging because of our puritan heritage. There are no news stories of Europeans lining up at airports with placards denouncing these techniques and technologies. We are far more prudish and priggish on this side of the Atlantic. On the other continent, people have long enjoyed nudity on the beaches of the Italian Riviera, topless sunbathing in Swedish parks, legal and sanctioned Red Light districts in the Netherlands, and very revealing advertisements in the windows of Italian pharmacies, to name only a few examples.

But in the US, we've always been much more restrained. So the idea that some person in a dark booth might be looking at a blurry, black-and-white image of your body (even though the face has been blocked out and there is no record of your name or your identity being kept in connection with that body image) is greeted with moral outrage. If your outrage gets the better of you, then you can opt for a full-body pat-down where you are actually touched and probed rather close to the very naughty bits you wanted to avoid having someone look at in the first place.

I'm puzzled about this fuss. When you go to the doctor, you are exposed and probed in ways much more explicit and invasive than these airport screenings. You willingly accept these medical interventions because you believe that in the long run they will help you live better and longer. Strangely, the very same person who lets a physician insert a rubber-gloved finger into some very private place will cry "uncle" when a much less invasive rubber glove glides glancingly over his or her clothed body. Yet the goal of the TSA screening is exactly the same -- that you should live better and longer, free from vexing things like having your plane blow up in mid-air or bursting into flames from the concealed flammable liquids smuggled in the underpants of some miscreant.

Am I missing something here? Are we compromising our own health and security, as well as those of all our fellow passengers, because we are squeamish about what our nerve-endings feel by the light touch of an airport screener?

Actually, most Americans support the airport screenings. So I have a modest proposal to the silent majority who go along with the policies. Why couldn't we just consider this a free massage provided by your local airport to relax you before you go on the plane? It's well documented that touch increases one's sense of well-being and tones up the human immune system. At the end of the pat-down, you might want to thank the TSA person and, who knows, even offer him or her a tip.