Saturday, February 12, 2011

Don't touch my 4th Amendment (or my junk), or would you like X-rays with your plastique pancakes?

In case you have forgotten it-- and it seems that many have -- and most notably among those, Tony Scalia -- here is the text of the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution.  
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Now the furor over the installation of airport body scanners has somewhat subsided, from the feverish peak around Thanksgiving of 2010-- when the notorious incident occurred (lately entered into the popular lexicon as 'dont touch my junk!') of a passenger refusing both the body scan and the intimate pat down, as a pre-condition of boarding an airplane.  There was at that time a call for a 'National Opt Out Day' during which airline passengers should  opt of out of the scans, and demand the pat-down, and thereby clog the security procedure to the point of effectively halting the nation's air traffic.  Fortunately or unfortunately (the latter in my opinion), this enterprise fizzled; and it now appears that the great American Sheeple, uh check that, I mean People, have gently habituated themselves to the choice between the possibility of increased risk of skin cancer, or the certainty of being groped by a stranger, whenever they fly.

I state the case too baldly you say? Perhaps I do.  First off, there are two types of scanners: X-ray and microwave.  The potential danger of the X-ray scanners, which use ionizing radiation, is described in a letter of concern from several scientists at one our premier medical schools, University of California at San Francisco.  The danger from the microwave scanners (no ionizing radiation) is less obvious, and some would rate it negligible.  (A debate on this point will be deferred to a future post.) 

But the key point about X-ray scanners, is their likely ineffectiveness!  This has been flagged by  the rightward leaning (but occasionally contrarian) Economist, which has pointed to a recent paper, by two eminent imaging scientists, demonstrating that a pancake of plastic explosive strapped to one's torso, would not be detected by the current scanners. 

So we are to submit to police state procedures, for effectively zero benefit.  My view is that the real point of the new security procedures (so called) is in fact to further socialize the American Populace to accept a Police State as the Norm.  My personal view is that this is in fact a major goal of the Global War on Terror (so called.)  My rather intemperate views on this subject will be given in future posts as well.

But a major by-product of all this pother is the further shredding of the already tattered 4th Amendment.  Brad DeLong had an excellent link, (which I have copped) on the extension of the VIPR program (visible  intermodal prevention and response) --now on display in Tampa, Florida, but  coming soon to a bus station near you-- in which passengers were frisked, and their luggage sniffed by a dope-sensing dog, as they were boarding an inter-city Greyhound.

The conflation of national security, and random searches for contraband seems poised to fray the remaining shreds of the 4th Amendment, leaving only a thread or two to which we may all collectively cling.

1 comment:

  1. It is hard to consolidate the political shift in this country to the right (less social welfare), and the progress toward a police state. Where are we headed?