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To Let the Government Touch, or Not to Let the Government Touch

The great debate of our times. (Updated: 1/31/11)

by
Bryan Preston

Bio

November 19, 2010 - 1:10 pm
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Ronald Reagan famously quipped that the most terrifying sentence in the English language is “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Truly, Ronaldus Magnus was more right than he ever knew. Behold your friendly government agent, who is only here to help, in a photo at the Denver Post.

It’s not quite the Gadsden Flag, but this image is fast becoming the symbol of the new “Don’t touch my junk” movement.  Whether to let government agents touch us where the sun don’t shine or not is no longer an academic question. It’s happening to more and more fliers every day, among other things altering the meaning of “frequent flier” in some unpleasant ways. And never let anyone hear you say that you enjoy air travel nowadays. They’ll look at you funny. And as each day of this passes, you’ll deserve it.

But the great TSA, or T&A, fracas brings up an item for debate: Which is more invasive, the picture machine/close touch combo or the mental search as done by the Israelis? Before you answer, read up on Michael Totten’s take on Israeli airport security techniques:

[O]fficials at Ben Gurion International Airport interview everyone in line before they’re even allowed to check in.

And Israeli officials profile. They don’t profile racially, but they profile. Israeli Arabs breeze through rather quickly, but thanks to the dozens of dubious-looking stamps in my passport — almost half are from Lebanon and Iraq — I get pulled off to the side for more questioning every time. And I’m a white, nominally Christian American.

If they pull you aside, you had better tell them the truth. They’ll ask you so many wildly unpredictable questions so quickly, you couldn’t possibly invent a fake story and keep it all straight. Don’t even try. They’re highly trained and experienced, and they catch everyone who tries to pull something over on them.

That sounds more than a little intimidating. But don’t answer yet. Not until you’ve heard from Claire Berlinski.

When I last flew El Al, they began with simple questions: Why are you flying to Israel? To give a lecture? Where? Who invited you? Really? Do you have a copy of the invitation? How do you know them? Really? And you don’t speak Hebrew? None? Why not? You didn’t learn any in school? Why not? It went on for quite some time. Somehow I ended up telling them where exactly I’d gone to kindergarten. That’s not one of those details that would be easy to manufacture on the spot.

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