Privilege Not A Right

After watching all the chatter on Twitter I feet compelled to articulate my feelings on the situation.

What is the situation you ask? Well the scanners (which are in airports around the world or will be soon) and pat-downs that people are experiencing at airports in the US.

I should state that I am quite liberal in my politics but I worked for a government organization that is part of Public Safety here in Canada. So rules and regulations no matter how seemingly absurd were part of the job. I applied and enforced them daily for 6.5 years. So my thoughts on national security, travel and the movement of people and goods can sometimes seem in conflict with my liberal beliefs.

In the almost ten years since September 11th I’ve been dismayed at how fear of the Other, of “the Unknown” has seen some rather insane laws and government regulations enacted around the world. I’ve also seen so much misinformation and rhetoric about these same laws that people are confused or annoyed or just completely dismiss them.

The imposition of passports to travel between Canada and the US is one I disagree with firmly for economic reasons on both sides of the border. The poor implementation and ignorance of the general population on both sides resulted in a declined in visits to both countries and a loss of tourism dollars. That’s just a small example of the new normal.

Something travellers often forget, even travelling within their own country is that air travel is a privilege and not a right. Your passport regardless of the country that issued it does not mean you have the right to travel on a plane. Sorry it doesn’t matter that you paid for the ticket. It doesn’t matter that you have shown up and offered to subject yourself to the kind of search you “want” to receive. That is not part of the deal when flying. I defy anyone to find a regulation or law that enshrines your right to fly, it just does not exist.

So when faced with the option to go through a scanner that will in essence produce images of your naked body or subject yourself to a pat down, understand that if you want to fly those are the choices. I am not thrilled about the creation of naked images of me out there but know what, I’ve posted more revealing ones online (many other people have too). Until the regulations are changed it’s one or the other. Is it right – nope. Will it change – not any time soon it seems. So you can protest, film, write a petition if it makes you feel better but don’t act appalled when you don’t get on the plane.

Where were you when there was discussion about implementing these particular security measures? Were you protesting? Did you lobby your governmental officials? Did you try to start a revolution? No, you probably did nothing. Maybe you didn’t even know about them – sorry ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse you on this one.

As a traveller I was beside myself the first time I had to take my shoes off in the airport in the US because I hate exposing my feet in any way but I wanted to get on my plane so off came my shoes because I wanted to get home. That’s a choice I make. The last time I flew I made sure I was only travelling with small bottles of liquids sealed in a Ziploc bag. That’s a choice I make because I wanted to go on vacation.

As a traveller you do not get to dictate the terms to the government or security officials that is how you end up on lists and government lists have long memories.

If you do not want to be scanned or pat down may I suggest the train or a car?

Is it inconvenient? Absolutely. Does the TSA pat down violate the passenger? Yes. I don’t really want someone’s hand wedged between my legs and under my breasts but again if I want to get on the plane – that’s what I have to subject myself to. I’m sure it must feel like a violation but they are making every reasonable effort not to “molest” or “grope” people’s junk. Have you ever used the back of your hand to feel someone up? Give it a try. Could you grab a boob or a nut that way? Probably not but you might be able to feel if someone has something strapped to their leg or in their underwear. Remember when you are filming the TSA or CATSA or CBSA or CBP or any other government official who is doing a job they may not agree with and certainly aren’t enjoying that you had a choice.

Yes, there are always people in positions of power who abuse it and take great pleasure in making people miserable but if you go out of your way to be difficult, you will see a change in attitude in even the most pleasant public servant. In particular when it comes to those charged with security. From experience I can tell you that the first signs of resistance, attitude, challenging the authority I was acting on and I upped the intensity of what I was doing – if you have nothing to hide no reason to resist or “avoid” as the people’s “hero” John Tyner did.

I guess my issue ultimately is this: people who object to these security measures, your issue is not with the TSA agent who has to look at your scans or the one who has to pat you down, it’s with the officials who enacted these measures. So to people participating in National Opt-Out Day think about who you are hurting and what you will really accomplish – missing your flight, causing others to miss theirs, making employees’ lives a living nightmare on what is already a busy day. Is that going to bring about the change you desire? Doubtful.


11 thoughts on “Privilege Not A Right

  1. Your post had me furrowing my brow in concentration at your wonderful way with logic, and laughing, too–yeah, they do to avoid grabbing our ‘junk’, don’t they. But mostly it had me thinking. I couldn’t agree more with your take on this “issue” you are airing out here.

    Your post put me in mind of a conversation I had with a former colleague, who lives up there north of the 49th, about the different concepts of liberty that define Canadian and American statutes and regulations. Freedom “to” and freedom “from” and all that. So much of it comes down to the minute details in our respective rhetorics.

    • Thanks, it took me awhile to formulate this post – many revisions.

      We definitely do have different concepts of freedom on both sides of the 49th – sadly I see my country beginning to adopt some of the same draconian measures in an attempt to appease our southern neighbours but that’s for another post.

  2. I agree in principle with what you’re saying. But what irritates me here is the loss or violation of civil liberties in exchange for ‘security’.

    Personally, I’m gonna start going commando and wearing a kilt when I fly. Then I’ll opt out and tell the pat-down person “don’t be shy” 😉

    • Oh that irritates me too but people are apathetic until they realize what they’ve lost – it doesn’t matter until it affects you personally. The time for action is before that happens. Our societies are backwards in that way. And don’t even get me started on “security” it’s a nice illusion but that’s about it.

      Well you do have really great legs, I think you could pull off the kilt 😉

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  4. After 09/11/01 Americans were on guard. Extra security was welcome everywhere. As time passed, the memory fades and since it’s been almost 10 years since an attack on American soil, apathy sets in. However, it’s my belief that should a traveler get past lax or downgraded security with a bomb hidden on there person and a plane and/or airport is blown up, everyone will be once again more than happy to comply. It’s truly a shame that because of a little inconvenience we may have to experience more tragedy.

    As always, freedom isn’t free.

    • I agree there is apathy but honestly the odds of being blown up by a suicide bomber on a plane pretty low. And to add insult to injury in all this – none of the “security” measures really make you any safer than you were 10 years ago. Trust me, having first hand experience, a lot of it looks like beefed up security but the holes in it are tremendous. I’m not sure that the trade off of being violated is worth it.

  5. “Where were you when there was discussion about implementing these particular security measures? Were you protesting? Did you lobby your governmental officials? Did you try to start a revolution? No, you probably did nothing. Maybe you didn’t even know about them – sorry ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse you on this one.”

    Uh uh. Nope. Sorry. I’m calling foul on this entire paragraph.

    Where were we when the discussions took place? There were no discussions. This wasn’t discussed out in the open, for the public to give their input; like most other measures in the “war on terror,” they were simply put in place, and the public was left to deal with them. Ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse you if you commit a crime, but we’re not talking about criminals here, we’re talking about normal members of the public, being treated like criminals.

    Of course, that’s even assuming I were American–I’m not. As a Canadian, even if there had been discussions, my input wouldn’t have meant anything. If I want to travel in the States, I simply have to go through the bizarre security measures they’ve put in place.

    Even more frustrating since I’ve just taken a job which will involve a lot of travel. So I can either be zapped with a massive dose of radiation (not properly tested, as so many before me have pointed out, so I guess I can give up any hopes of having children–or at least having children without birth defects), or I can take myself out of the line, and give up my dignity in another way entirely.

    As for choice, again, if I have a job which requires me to travel, there isn’t going to be a choice; if I have to be in New York this week and L.A. next week and Calgary the week after that, the train (or the bus) aren’t going to be options. I will have no choice but to give up my dignity, for no reason, because those are the rules the FAA laid down, and we have no choice in the matter.

    None of this would even be a problem, except that any reputable security expert I’ve heard from says that these measures do nothing to make anyone safer. So… I have to go through all of this only to emphasize the incompetence of the FAA? There’s something wrong there.

    No wonder people are protesting. If we’d known that this was coming, they would have protested earlier.

    • Well it may not have bee put to a referendum but I recall reading about full-body scanners in Canada last year. It was a blip on the radar then because as usual when our politicians announce something no one cares. No one responds unless it affects you directly in that moment. This happens every single day not just with issues of safety and security.

      Ignorance of the law doesn’t excuse you if you commit a crime, but we’re not talking about criminals here, we’re talking about normal members of the public, being treated like criminals.

      I call foul right back – ignorance of the law applies to everyone. If an American crosses the border with his legal handgun into Canada doesn’t mean he won’t have it taken it from him because he’s not a criminal. And you can bet your life that person is getting looked over quite closely. Canadian law doesn’t allow it so the fact that he wasn’t aware of that doesn’t change the issue. I think part of the problem is people don’t actually realize the kind of “rights” you have lost over the years. You’d be surprised to know what security and customs agents can legally do to you. Again, I go back to ignorance. Because this is such a high profile situation (and the TSA is handling it atrociously) people are up in arms but there are other things people should be upset about too.

      As for the radiation – maybe it will give you skin cancer or nuke your reproductive organs maybe it won’t, I’ve read conflicting accounts.

      Oh I absolutely agree this doesn’t make anyone safer and the TSA would be better off training its agents to look for suspicious people than things like liquids in bags but that’s harder and more costly than throwing scanners in airports.

  6. The discussions in Canada don’t mean much, because it’s not a Canadian policy–it’s American. The TSA is an American institution (I accidentally said FAA in my previous comment–whoops), and the fact that scanners are being put in place in Canadian airports is only in compliance with the TSA rules; what’s important is: where were all of the discussions before the TSA decided to put in the scanners? (Let alone the new pat-downs.)

    I continue to maintain my call of foul, because you’re making my point for me. Ignorance of the law not being an excuse only applies in the case where a LAW has been broken–as in the case you mention, with someone bringing a handgun into Canada. That person has broken the law, and that law applies regardless of whether he knew about it or not. He’s unwittingly become a criminal. But it’s not against the law to take a plane from NYC to L.A. No laws are being broken if I book such a flight, and attempt to get on the plane. “Ignorance of the law” is irrelevant in this discussion, because we’re not talking about laws being broken.

    I’m sure that there are conflicting accounts with the scanners, and their health effects. (I REALLY feel sorry for the security personnel, who are standing beside those things all day every day–if it’s discovered that there are long-term effects, my heart is going to melt for those people, who have no more choice in the matter than the general public has.) The problem is not just that they were rushed in so fast, it’s that there is no government body (especially in the States) with the funding to do proper studies on them. The only people who have funding to do that are… oh… the people who make them. I hope they’re safe.

    After all, I’ll be passing through enough of them, going forward…

    P.S. I’m sorry that this turned into an argument over your comments–hopefully a friendly one. 🙂 I do enjoy your blog….

    • I meant to reply to this awhile ago.

      You made my point for me – if as you say Canada is only putting in scanners in response to the TSA then they must have announced their implementation to someone.

      Trust me I’m well aware of the difference between Canadian and US departments and their limitations. So that was why I posted those articles. It was to make the point that this scanner implementation didn’t just happen 2 months ago. Billion dollar scanners don’t materialise overnight. So when it was being discussed by the TSA, by other government officials why was no one paying attention or raising these concerns.

      At the moment this new Canada/US perimeter security deal concerns me but no one seems too up in arms about it. So that will come into effect and then once again our reactive society will protest and once again it will be too late.

      To me that is the tragedy of these things.

      Yes there will always be horror stories when it come to government officials and mistreatment but how many people don’t get mistreated? Do we have those numbers and those stories?

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