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Scope or Grope? The Wrong Approach to Homeland Security

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It's that time of the year again: Thanksgiving week, when Americans take to the roads and the air to visit kith and kin and to give thanks. Too bad that many of those taking to the air have an unfortunate choice: Submit to so-called "Porno Scanners" that essentially strip you of your clothes, exposing your body to prying eyes as well as to a level of radiation that may be less than benign; or submit to being groped by less-than-delicate operatives, a humiliating experience for all involved. All this submission in the name of greater "safety" and "security."

But why do I feel less safe when these scopes -- the high-tech equivalent to those goofy x-ray glasses advertised at the back of old comic books for gullible young boys and dirty old men -- turn their trick on me? Why do I feel less secure when I have to submit meekly to having my genitals felt up by a man who (I hope) is taking no pleasure in his work?

Scoping grandma and groping granddad is not making us safer or more secure. It's worse than a crime: it's a mistake. They don't fit the profile of "terrorist" to begin with; nor should they be terrorized by government technology or its glove-clad workers.

Instead of all the gadgets and the groping, let's get real. Start by asking each ticket-holder the standard questions European airport officials ask; watch how people respond. Look for unusual behavior: nervousness, evasiveness, uncertainty. Forgo "random" inspections for targeted ones. And let's do it swiftly and with authority.

Forget the security theater. No more nonsense about everyone taking their shoes off. Let's stop reacting to what some incompetent "shoe bomber" or "underwear bomber" tried years ago and start preempting whatever fresh tactics our enemies are about to wield against us.

Americans are not babies. We know flying can be dangerous. But it doesn't have to be humiliating and compromising and invasive as well.

So I say "Amen" to Ron Paul's "American Travel Dignity Act." If we have to give up basic human decency and rights to privacy and (seemingly) even common sense to defend ourselves against terrorists, guess what? We've already lost.

Professor Astore writes regularly for TomDispatch.com and can be reached at wjastore@gmail.com.