Does TSA get TMI?

I am fitting in a quick post right after trip #1 and before trip #2 (which will be closely followed by trip #3). Since all of these involve air travel, now is as good a time as any to mention the searches we must go through before getting on a plane.

By any measure, these searches are intrusive. They make us show ID (on my last trip, an agent was jovially playing Guess the Ethnicity of People’s Last Names). They go through all of our personal belongings, often in fine detail. They make us empty our pockets and take off shoes, jackets, and belts. They send us through a machine that allows them to essentially see us naked. And when mysterious blobs show up on the machine, they pat us down. All without the slightest suspicion that we’ve done anything wrong, or that we plan to. Doesn’t that sound like a violation of the 4th Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures?

The courts don’t think so. They’ve ruled that plane travel constitutes a special circumstance permitting searches that wouldn’t be otherwise allowed. (Other special circumstances involve public K-12 schools and railroad and Customs employees.) When special circumstances exist, the courts take a balancing approach, weighing the degree of the intrusion against the need. Given the potential for hijackers and other violence in the air, the courts have concluded that what TSA puts us through is permissible.

Yeah, I wonder if the SCOTUS Justices have to go through that machine.

If you object to these searches? I guess you can always drive or take a train.

Incidentally, searches can be even broader at international borders. This means not just our physical borders with Mexico and Canada, but also seaports and airports that receive international flights. It also includes areas within 100 miles of our borders—and if you look at a map, you’ll see that this includes some pretty substantial population centers.

On a flight from Paris to Zagreb, I once forgot I had a penis-shaped brioche in my carry-on bag. It amused the French security guys quite a lot. Now I’m off to pack.

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