On a flight a few years ago, from a one mid-sized airport to another, I got my first dose of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) harassment, or at least what I considered TSA harassment. I was traveling with my wife, and then young infant child, on a very routine 2-hour domestic trip. We had the stroller, the diaper bag, and a bunch of other baby tackle. We were not exactly looking like terrorists, let alone security risks to anyone. Still, security enforcement, like justice, is supposed to be blind, and we were flagged as worthy of further investigation. For the first 5 minutes, I was relatively OK with being flagged, being separated from my wife and child, and having the entire contents of my pockets and carry-on bag rummaged through. That was until the TSA agent, after asking to see my ID again and registering that it was a New York State license baited me with the question, “You from New York?” I responded in the affirmative, to which he replied, “I don’t like New York.” At that moment I looked up and could see out of the corner of my eye a female TSA employee patting down my 16-month old. I wouldn’t say I lost it, but I felt a level of outrage and helplessness that could barely be contained that moved me to look at him and reply, in typical New York fashion, “Yeah, well what the @%!* would you like me to do about that?” (and I am not even really from New York). Somehow I moved through those few moments of discomfort and inconvenience with no more than a story, and a few hours of grousing and complaints ahead of me, but as we know, some people who have run-ins with the TSA are not quite as lucky.
The TSA has been in the news lately, not so much because they have been catching would-be terrorist left and right (if they were, who would really know?) but because they have been majorly pissing off would be travelers. As of recently, the TSA has some new and enhanced (not improved) “patdown” procedures that are infringing on the personal space and rights of passengers. TSA officers used to be somewhat diplomatic by inspecting passengers with the backs of their hands, but now they’ll use the fronts of their hands to search more than ever before, in some cases touching and groping body parts that once were considered very much off limits. Many people are incensed and feel, not only targeted, but violated and, in some cases, sexually assaulted. The TSA is essentially the federally operated agency (barring the IRS) that we all love to hate.
Now comes news (although this stems from an incident which occurred months ago) that the TSA can not only touch you in seemingly inappropriate ways, but also taunt and humiliate you if you are one of “those” mothers who insist on maintaining the integrity of your breast milk.
While the provenance of this video remains a bit of a mystery, sources say that this event occurred back in February of 2010 and involves a young mother (traveling alone) with a few ounces of freshly pumped breast milk intended for her infant child waiting for her on the other end of the flight terminus. The mother, who had opted to have her breast milk irradiated by passing it though the x-ray machine, and instead requested to have it inspected by a TSA agent (note: after a few incidents years ago, where TSA agents required parents carrying breast milk to either taste or dispose of the breast milk altogether, the TSA adopted new standards in 2008 declaring breast milk a “medical liquid” and therefore making it exempt from invasive inspection). Well things did not go so well (see below):
The video is rather long (11 minutes), so for those of you that don’t enjoy extended surveillance footage, I will just tell you that the woman was mercilessly harassed and detained in what looks like a glass elevator for over an hour and, as a result, missed her flight. Allegedly, this was this mother’s second time through this particular TSA checkpoint in a week, and the TSA staff had basically flagged her as a “problem” passenger for her uppity behavior. Maybe it was a way of teaching her a lesson, maybe it was just a way of exploiting their authority. Either way, the incident, as the video demonstrates, is pretty outrageous.
All due respect to all of the courteous TSA agents out there who are doing a great job, both keeping our airports safe and maintaining a level of respect and dignity with everyone who walks through their little gauntlet, but obviously, in some corners of the airport security world, something has gone very, very wrong. Judging from all of the universal outrage over the new TSA guidelines, things are poised to change, but maybe not soon enough. Judging from the video and all that you know, do you feel there is an abuse of power going on here? Is there a more effective and reasonable way to insure safety at our nations airports? Or are civil liberties just as passé as edible airline food when it comes to contemporary air travel?