TSA “Chat Downs”: Just say no to Big Brother at the airport

by Amy Alkon on August 24, 2012


Steve Gunn writes in the Muskegon Chronicle about his refusal to tell a TSA worker where he was flying and what he was doing:

At first she simply seemed chatty and friendly. She looked at my airline boarding pass and noted that I was coming from Denver. Then she mentioned that I was headed from Detroit to Grand Rapids.

“That’s a pretty short flight,” she said.

“Talk to my travel agent,” I grumbled.

At that point she asked me what my business would be in Grand Rapids.

“I’m headed home,” I replied.

Then she wanted to know where home was. That’s when the mental alarms went off and I realized I was being interrogated by Big Brother in drag.

I asked her why the federal government needed to know where I was going and what I would be doing. She explained that the questions were part of a new security “pilot program.”

I then told her I am an American citizen, traveling within my own country, and I wasn’t breaking any laws. That’s all the federal government needed to know, and I wasn’t going to share any more.

Not because I had anything to hide. It was because we live in a free country where innocent people are supposedly protected from unwarranted government intrusion and harassment.

At that point the agent yelled out, “We have another refusal.” One of my bags was seized and I was momentarily detained and given a hand-swab, which I believe was to test for residue from bomb-making materials.

I passed the bomb test and was told I could move on, but I hung around a moment and told everyone within listening range what I thought about this terrifying experience.

So, this is what we’ve come to. The federal government now has a need to know where citizens are going and what they are doing before they are allowed to peacefully pass. I’m starting to wonder what separates us from Russia or Cuba.

Of course, I went home, got on the computer and learned more about this “pilot program.” I discovered that it’s been going on for a few years now at selected airports around the nation.

Of course, it’s caught no terrorists, but it has picked up a few people with drug warrants. (Is that really the goal of the $60-plus billion we’ve put into the TSA?)

Gunn asks the right questions:

What’s next? Check lanes on city streets, where jackbooted thugs from Washington, D.C., will stop everyone every morning to ask them where they’re going and what they’re up to? And if our answers are not what the government wants to hear, perhaps we’ll be sent home and put under surveillance, to make sure we’re not involved in anything that Big Brother doesn’t approve of.

Our freedom is severely compromised when government is allowed to do this sort of thing. We are supposed to be presumed innocent and able to come and go as we please, as long as we don’t break any laws or give authorities reason to believe we may have.

I believe a number of actions by the TSA — like leaving your belongings on the belt where anyone can steal them if you opt out of the nudie scanners and go for the groping — are meant to intimidate passengers. What was done to Gunn seems like another such tactic.

An academic who follows me on Twitter chided me for my supposed silliness in speaking out about the TSA, but every violation of our rights matters. Every time we let our rights be eroded, it’s that much easier to yank them from us the next time and the next time, and to yank more and more rights from us.

Because of a lot of crazy deadlines and obligations (book, etc.), I’m working now as if chased by coyotes. I’d meant to do a protest at a TSA checkpoint at LAX by the end of August, and I’ve had to postpone it. But I do mean to do it. If you can protest in any way — whether at a checkpoint or by other means — please do so.

Don’t go quietly at the TSA checkpoint or any time you see rights being violated, whether yours or another person’s. The quiet road is the path to the police state — or more of a police state than already exists in this country.

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