Michael Roberts: One Man Against the Surveillance State

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"I
don't know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless
machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives
to bring down a Boeing 747. That's why we haven't put them in our
airport."

~
Rafi Sela, leading Israeli airport security expert, referring to
Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport, which has some of the
toughest security in the world

Michael
Roberts
, a 35-year-old airline pilot from Memphis, Tennessee,
is putting everything on the line for freedom. Concerned about the
world his children will grow up in, this father of six young children
ranging in age from 10-months to 8-years-old has pitted himself
against the American surveillance state as it encroaches upon personal
privacy and our constitutional freedoms.

Friday, October
15, 2010, should have been a day like any other for Roberts. While
most Americans were gearing up for the end of their work week, Roberts
was setting off on his work commute, which takes him from Memphis
International Airport to Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport,
where he flies an Embraer 145 Regional Jet as a first officer for
ExpressJet Airlines. It's a commute he knows by heart, having done
it roughly once a week for 4 years.

Unfortunately,
Roberts never made it to work that day or any day since. In fact,
he never made it past the security line at the Memphis airport,
which had begun using one of the new Advanced Imaging Technology
full-body scanners that are currently being deployed at airports
across the nation. Using either x-ray radiation or radio waves,
full-body scanners can "see" through clothing to produce
images of an individual's unclothed body, although they are unable
to reveal material concealed in body cavities. Critics have likened
the scans to "virtual strip searches" because of the degree
to which details of the body are revealed. Indeed, the ACLU has
urged Congress to prohibit this technology being used in airport
screening, arguing that "[p]assengers expect privacy underneath
their clothing and should not be required to display highly personal
details of their bodies — such as evidence of mastectomies, colostomy
appliances, penile implants, catheter tubes, and the size of their
breasts or genitals — as a prerequisite to boarding a plane."

Unfortunately,
Congress not only failed to heed the ACLU's warning but it has actually
assisted the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in its
ongoing efforts to install these scanners in every airport in the
country. The TSA plans to roll out a total of 450 full-body scanners
by year's end, with the cost of installing the approximately $150,000-a-pop
machines adding up to a whopping $67.5 million — and that's just
for the devices installed in 2010. An additional $88 million is
included in the 2011 national fiscal budget for 500 more machines.

Thus, while
Roberts, along with several other pilots, had voiced his concerns
about the full-body scanners to his employer just a month earlier,
October 15 was the first time he had actually encountered the scanners
on his commute to work. On this particular day, Roberts, who was
in his pilot's uniform, loaded his bags onto the X-ray scanner belt,
only to be directed by a TSA agent to remove his shoes and send
them through as well. When Roberts questioned the directive, he
was informed it was necessary for the full-body scanner. Roberts
then voiced his objection to being scanned, believing that it invaded
his privacy and violated his constitutional rights against unreasonable
searches and seizures by government agents. The TSA agent stated
Roberts could keep his shoes on and directed him through a metal
detector that had been roped off, calling out somewhat urgently
to the agents on the other side: "We got an opt-out!"
The agent also reported the "opt-out" into her handheld
radio.

It was at this
point that Roberts became a "suspect." Despite clearing
the metal detector without triggering any alerts, Roberts was informed
by another TSA agent that because he had refused the full-body screening,
he would have to go through secondary screening which involves a
full pat-down search. Again, Roberts refused on the grounds that
such searches violate his constitutional rights. After being informed
by a TSA agent that, pursuant to a TSA decree, he could not pass
through security without submitting to a full-body scan or a pat-down
search, Roberts was subjected to further questioning and eventually
escorted out of the airport. (Roberts has since turned to The Rutherford
Institute for help in defending his constitutional freedoms.)

It's outrageous
that any American would be subjected to this kind of treatment,
but it's particularly absurd that a credentialed pilot — who is
clearly not a terrorist — would be treated this way. As a
friend who is also a former pilot shared recently, "If you
have all of the credentials of a pilot to get through security,
your weapon is waiting for you on the other side — tons of metal
and jet fuel. At a minimum, you have your selection of crash axes.
For the life of me, what do they expect to find on your person that
would equal what you have access to on the aircraft?"

Indeed, while
Michael Roberts' security clearance as a pilot gives him a unique
perspective to object to the TSA's heavy-handed tactics, his outrage
over the mishandling of his Fourth Amendment rights is universal.
In recent weeks, I've been contacted by a number of Americans who
have had their own TSA horror stories to share.

For example,
one mother shared that her 17-year-old daughter was subjected to
a full pat-down when flying from Boston Logan due to the new scanner
malfunctioning. "Even when she began to cry, the TSA agent
continued the pat down. My daughter felt molested and humiliated
and as a parent I was helpless to stop this violation. These measures
are not making it safer to fly. They are just arbitrary measures
being done to make us believe it is safer; at the same time, it
is taking advantage of law abiding citizens."

Another traveler
had this to share:

I recently
had my first experience with TSA's "whole body imager,"
and cannot express in terms strongly enough how absolutely violated
I felt. Despite having complied with all of the instructions being
barked at nobody in particular by a TSA employee — I removed my
shoes, I removed my belt, I removed ALL contents from my pockets
(right down to the lint), I removed my jacket. I entered the scanning
unit, raised my hands like an apprehended criminal, and stepped
out. I was then directed to stop by a male screener, with NO explanation
that he was to receive a radio transmission from a person reviewing
my near-pornographic image in a separate area. The TSA employee
then ordered me to hold my hands out, again like an apprehended
criminal. He then inserted four fingers of both hands INSIDE my
trousers and ran his fingers all the way around my waist, his
fingers extending at least 2-3 inches BELOW my waistline. He then
used his palms and front of his hand/fingers to FIRMLY press into
my buttocks and slide down each side — again, despite the fact
that my pockets were COMPLETELY empty. Additionally, I was wearing
a suit that day as I was on a business trip, and suit trousers
are EXTREMELY lightweight, especially compared to denim.

I am
a 50-year-old Air Force retiree and felt completely and totally
humiliated, and yet my experience pales in comparison to some
of the horrid stories heard of what is happening to females. The
balance of security and civil liberties is nowhere to be seen.
Whereas the courts have ruled that x-ray screening of carry-on
bags is not overly invasive and so not a violation of one's Fourth
Amendment rights, TSA has now gone WAY across the line in these
new procedures which are clearly a violation of passengers' personal
and private space to which each individual MUST have an expectation
of privacy if the United States is to continue to be viewed as
a "free society." The US government sometimes appears
to have lost its collective mind. I'm fed up with being treated
like an unindicted suspect.

Had more Americans
been willing to stand up for their freedoms early on, we might not
have had to endure such a long list of abuses since 9/11. Unfortunately,
few did and the list of abuses has continued to grow. In fact, it
got substantially longer in the wake of the bumbling underwear bomber's
December 2009 attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight. In
the months that followed, the government's knee-jerk embrace of
full-body scanners as a miracle fix rapidly evolved into a headlong
and expensive rush to implement scanners in all airports — a program
with few guarantees of success and numerous pitfalls, not the least
of which is the harrowing toll it is taking on our civil liberties
and the risks it poses to our health.

Increasingly,
travelers are complaining about being subjected to ogling and inappropriate
remarks by airport officials. Yet this almost pales in comparison
to the retributive, harsh treatment and excessive full-body searches
being meted out to those who decline a full-body scan, which is
still optional.

The x-rays
themselves have prompted concerns about their health risks. For
example, David Brenner, head of Columbia University's Center for
Radiological Research, asserts that X-ray scanners may emit 20 times
more radiation than previously thought and may pose increased cancer
risks. Radiologist Dr. Sarah Burnett warns of possible health risks
to pregnant women and fetuses, while other physicians have recommended
that pregnant women and children, who are the most susceptible to
radiation, steer clear of the scanners altogether.

So why, in
light of the incursions into our privacy, risks to our health, and
the admitted shortcoming of the scanners' inability to disclose
material hidden in the groin area and body cavities, does government
demand for the x-ray technology remain high? If you follow the money
trail, which leads straight to private corporations all too willing
to exploit national security fears by peddling security technology
and equipment via lobbyists and influential Washington figures,
this resolute march towards a surveillance state starts to make
a little more sense.

As James Ridgeway,
author of The
Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11
, notes, "Airport
security has always been compromised by corporate interests. When
it comes to high-tech screening methods, the TSA has a dismal record
of enriching private corporations with failed technologies."
Thus, it should come as little surprise that in the days following
the underwear bomber's foiled attempt, share prices for security
imaging production companies skyrocketed and competition for security
imaging government contracts turned into a veritable "feeding
frenzy."

Indeed, it
doesn't take too much digging to reveal a semi-incestuous relationship
between mega-corporations and the government. The full-body scanner
lobby and their private security corporation employers are a chummy
group made up of former TSA personnel, as well as former members
of Congress and former congressional staff. A perfect example of
this is Rapiscan Systems, which retains the Chertoff Group, a security
business consultant headed by former Department of Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff. Using the underwear bomber's failed
terrorist attempt to great advantage, Chertoff almost immediately
started making the rounds of various TV news shows to promote Rapiscan's
full-body scanners. Unless specifically asked, Chertoff did not
mention his associations within the security industry — despite
the fact that these associations date back to his stint in the Bush
administration, when the first Rapiscan scanners were procured by
the government, and have resulted in exponential pay-offs for Rapiscan.
In 2009, for example, the TSA bought $25 million worth of full-body
scanners from Rapiscan with finances supplied by the tax-funded
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Ironically enough, what
this means is that we the taxpayers are paying to erect our own
electronic prison. Obviously, corporations such as Rapiscan, aided
and abetted by the government, were waiting in the wings for some
half-baked terrorist to give them a reason to spring this on us.
And when that happened, corporations did not hesitate to make a
killing at taxpayer expense.

The bottom
line is this: forcing Americans to undergo a virtual strip search
as a matter of course in reporting to work or boarding an airplane
when there is no suspicion of wrongdoing is a gross violation of
our civil liberties. Indeed, putting yourself through the full-body
scanner is the same as subjecting yourself to a strip search. It
completely undermines one's right to privacy and to be free from
unreasonable searches and seizures by government agents.

The Constitution
does not allow blanket strip searches or full-body pat downs of
American citizens unless there's some reasonable suspicion that
criminal activity is afoot. If we allow the government to reverse
the burden of proof so that we have to prove our innocence,
then we might as well give up on the Constitution altogether. At
that point, we are all suspects in the surveillance state.

Right now,
this is one man's battle against the surveillance state, but it
should be every American's battle. This is our fight, now,
before it's too late. Our country is rapidly moving toward a surveillance
state where no one's privacy or freedoms will be recognized anymore.
A lot is at stake. It's time to resist the ever-growing encroachments
on our freedoms.

October
27, 2010

Constitutional
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail
] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute
. He is the author of The
Change Manifesto
(Sourcebooks).

The
Best of John W. Whitehead

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