Tuesday, July 26, 2005
Let's be honest, gentle reader: The Transportation Security Administration does absolutely nothing to enhance homeland security. A random search of some two percent of checked baggage, and a frisk-search of paying airline customers, wouldn't have prevented the September 11 attacks. Nor did it prevent a French passenger entering the U.S. from attempting to detonate explosives hidden in his shoe. It has, however, confiscated thousands of toenail clippers and Zippo lighters from ordinary air travelers, unlocked and rummaged through an unknown number of travelers' personal baggage (including my own, the last time I flew), and performed numerous invasive personal searches.
Cyberjournalist Ryan Singel has written in detail about the TSA's rampant abuse of power, some of which crosses the line into outright criminality. None of which matters, of course: The TSA has carte blanche to harass air travelers.
Or in some cases, it would seem, to molest them.
Consider the case of Phyllis Dintenfass, a 62-year-old retired teacher in Wisconsin. Like many women her age, she wears bobby pins in her hair -- pins which reportedly set off a metal detector at airport security last September. Dintenfrass was taken aside, and given what authorities have described as "a limited pat-down search" -- in which the hands of a TSA official glide over the most intimate regions of a subject's body, feeling the buttocks, the hips, the breasts ....
And Dintenfass didn't like it. Incensed at the liberties this government official was apparently taking with her body, she proceeded to give the female official a taste of her own medicine. According to a report in USA Today, Dintenfass asked this guard whether she would like it if someone grabbed her in the same manner -- and drove the point home, allegedly, by gripping the woman's breasts.
Of course, Dintenfass isn't the only woman who fears the frisky fingers of the TSA. The last time I was in an airport, roughly six months ago, I was surprised at the appearance of the women in line: They looked unattractive, and some of them had worked hard for the effect. Doubtless many of these women were traveling on business, and had meetings to attend later that day, yet none of them were dressed in business attire. They wore baggy clothes that obscured the contours of their bodies, and their faces -- even the younger ones -- looked as if they had gone through a blast sander. The same was not true for the men; some of them wore attractive suits, or at least clothing that didn't look as if it had come from the bottom of a laundry basket.
These women were clearly frumping themselves up, and my first guess was that they did it to avoid unwelcome male attention. It was as if they had remembered their mothers' advice: "Don't wear makeup, don't wear provocative clothing, stay with the group, don't let them get you alone." Any person could be subject to unwelcome "touches" from a government official, and the women seemed acutely aware of that fact.
Naturally, the TSA won't be punished for creating a climate of sexual intimidation at every American airport. Nor will Congress and the Executive Branch be punished, alas, for creating an organization that runs roughshod over the basic rights of law-abiding American travelers. Although there are plenty of ways for airport security officials to conduct hands-free (and even touch-free) personal searches, the TSA official may have performed her job in accordance with governmental regulations, when she ran her hands over Phyllis Dintenfass's body. But for fighting back when a TSA official felt her body without her consent, Dintenfass is currently on trial in a Green Bay court. If convicted, she could receive a year in jail and a fine of $100,000.
Sometimes I think that if the Founding Fathers could have seen what America has become, they'd have put up their pens and flintlocks and taken their chances with old King George. But at least our country still has a few people like Phyllis Dintenfass, who stand up for their rights as citizens against an increasingly intrusive, repressive and expensive federal government. Dintenfass is an American hero.
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