Security bunk and private junk

Brian Jones
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These are tough times for futurists. If regular folk can’t predict what’s coming in tomorrow’s headlines, imagine how difficult it must be for seers to spot trends that will unfold five or 10 years hence.

It’s likely that on Sept. 10, 2001, not a single crystal ball gazer declared, “I see millions of free citizens eagerly and obediently giving up their right to privacy.”

Earlier this year, when full body scanners went into use at numerous Canadian airports, there was barely a peep of protest from the travelling public. Cows being herded onto cattle cars emit more audible objections.

In contrast, Americans — who are supposedly less politically enlightened and sophisticated than Canadians — eventually got fed up with the “security” measures at airports and began objecting.

Airport outrage

You’ve got to admire the American penchant for producing folk heroes.

John Tyner, a 31-year-old software engineer from California, became famous earlier this month when, after refusing to step into a body scanner and about to receive a “patdown” from security personnel at the San Diego airport that would include a close probing of his private parts, he bluntly warned, “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.”

He recorded the exchange on his cellphone. Travellers the world over should ponder this statement he made to officials from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA): “I don’t understand how a sexual assault can be made a condition of my flying.”

To which a TSA supervisor replies, “This is not considered a sexual assault.”

Tyner then says, “It would be if you weren’t the government.”

In a few lines, he accurately and astutely sizes up the situation.

In contrast, Canadians’ inclination toward docility and compliance is exemplified by Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, who, while talking to reporters in Ottawa this week, said about the issue, “If you’re in my business, you live in an airport. And so I have people touching my private parts all day long. … And all I have to say is, if that’s what we have to do to keep us safe. …”

I’d say John Tyner is better prime ministerial material than is Michael Ignatieff. The latter may have taught at Harvard, but perhaps that esteemed school doesn’t encourage its staff or students to think deeply about the need for, and repercussions of, wide-scale groping in the name of security.

Wilful transgressions

These are strange times, indeed, when it takes right-wingers to speak out in defence of individual rights, while left-wingers busily defend the excesses of the state.

Conservative columnist George F. Will this week defended Tyner, writing in the Washington Post that the California man is right, and the TSA’s policy is wrong.

Over on the liberal side, The New York Times opined in an editorial Wednesday that the millions of people who are miffed about being molested as part of security measures are overreacting to “a few moments of inconvenience in the airport.”

So, to the venerable Times, state-sanctioned sexual assault is a mere “inconvenience.”

Who could have predicted that in 2001?

Of course, many still mouth the facile argument that giving up rights is necessary so travellers can be safe. From the Times editorial: “If terrorists learn that elderly white women from Iowa are exempt from screening, that’s exactly whom they will recruit.”

You’ll read it first in the Times: “Iowa grandmother brings down airliner.”

Ours is a society on the verge of lunacy. Every passenger, and every citizen, is treated like a suspected terrorist.

Why? Because to “profile” — i.e., to rationally narrow the field of suspects by identifying common traits among perpetrators — is deemed “racist.”

Well, let’s not hurt anyone’s feelings — far better to fondle Grandma and molest the grandkids.

Brian Jones is a desk editor at The Telegram. He can be reached by email at

Organizations: Transportation Security Administration, Harvard, Washington Post New York Times The Telegram

Geographic location: California, San Diego, Ottawa Iowa

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Recent comments

  • David
    November 26, 2010 - 11:59

    Profiling for the purpose of indentifying deviant populations is the Science of Hollywood. Essentially, the data base consists of a grab bag of ambiguous traits and characteristics to which algorythms are developed then, compaired statistically against itself until a statistical tendency versus a human tendency is identified namely, regression towards the medium. The operational knowledge base that is distributed as fact to law enforcement is nothing more than statistical science fiction. But, when the fiction, now presented as statistical evidence reinforces a dominant populations prejudices, it trancends prejudice into a lie based on artificial fact all sanctioned by misusing the tools of scientific inquiry. No human being is without prejudice. The acknowledgement of such is nothing less than self-deception. Prejudice yields when we are forced to interact with those we are biased about and in time, stop viewing them primarily as a race or, skin color or ethnicity different than one's own. The danger of profiling populations is, it blinds a societies efforts to become more tolerant and culturally diverse. On a personal level, it serves as a deceptive mask to justify our prejudices under the rubric of fact rather than, self-honesty and willingness to expand our view of individual differences. Profiling has it's place as an aid to be applied in case specific circumstances such as, an aid in generating multiple scenarios in attempting to solve a crime. It was never meant to represent evidence because it is a tool based on inductive rather than deductive reasoning. Taking vague human traits and identifiers and inducing scenarios (possiblilities) and latter turning enough of those inductions (fantasies) into algorythms based on the fantasies themselves is nothing less than government sanctioned bigotry. I recall the most frightening statement made in American politics that I have ever heard in my lifetime; "If you are not with us (if you dicent or disagree), then you are against us (as in you are the enemy as well)." (A rather recent U.S. Attorney General) Prejudice and bigot, not me sir, I'm no terrorist.

  • Chantelle
    November 26, 2010 - 08:05

    WHAT WHAT WHAT?! How far on the right of the political spectrum to you have to be to see Michael Ignatieff as a "left-winger?" Maybe you're thinking of another Michael Ignatieff -- the one who doesn't support Bush’s self-proclaimed 'American exceptionalism,' ‘extraordinary rendition,’ (torture), Israel’s racist domestic policies, and, of course, Canada’s undebated prolonged war in Afghanistan.