Despite TSA’s and mainstream media’s attempts to portray National Opt-Out Day as a flop or “fizzle,” I think there is a valid case to be made that the use of social media worked to make more people aware of a serious issue. But a one-day protest and complaining on Twitter is obviously not enough. So what next? Some lawsuits have already been filed and I hope more will be filed. But we also need to exert pressure on Congress to rein in what has become an outrageous situation. Congress has an important oversight function to perform and it needs to perform it.
If every member of the public picks up their phone and calls or emails their legislators in Washington to say, “TSA has crossed the line. Enough is enough!” maybe something will get done. Hopefully, EFF or the ACLU will post a letter on their sites that you can just sign and send, but here’s what you can do to get started:
Wednesday Friday, the House Judiciary Committee Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties is holding a hearing on Civil Liberties and National Security. Here are the members of the Subcommittee. If your Representative is on the Subcommittee, call them today.
If you’ve never called your Representative before, start by identifying yourself as their constituent. Then ask them their position on the issue and tell them what you want them to do to represent you. Do not be upset if you do not get to talk to your Representative directly. Assume you will get to talk to one of their staffers and just ask for the staffer who would be involved with TSA, Homeland Security, and civil liberties issues. Here are some talking points to help you think about what you might say:
1. Tell them that as a citizen, you will not accept your own country treating you like a criminal or a terrorist when your only “crime” has been to attempt to board a flight.
2. Congress should insist on a cost-benefit analysis on both the full-body scanners (“porno-scanners”) and “enhanced” patdowns (“gropes”).
Security tests of TSA have revealed failures to detect what would be serious threats to airline and passenger safety, and a lack of systematic recording of failures or successes to help identify and remediate vulnerabilities. Additionally, a recent report noted serious deficiencies in personnel training.
Putting citizens through techniques that have not been proven to be effective while serious threats are being missed is inexcusable. A story in the New York Times last week noted how even after eight “enhanced” patdowns, TSA agents still missed metal objects and a battery in the reporter’s pocket. Other media coverage has pointed out security measures that are necessary that have not been implemented. And yet citizens are put through invasive screening while other measures are still not in place?
3. If you have health concerns about the backscatter scanners, tell them that you do not trust the government’s claims and want an independent assessment of health risks.
4. Tell them that as far as the public knows, TSA screening procedures have never prevented even a single terrorist action and that techniques that give the illusion of security (“security theater”) are not a substitute for genuine security.
5. If you have had a bad experience with TSA, tell them what happened to you or your family. If you have a disability or are an assault victim, tell them your concerns about how you have been or might be treated by TSA agents.
6. If you have decided to stop using air travel because of these procedures, tell them that and how that decision may impact your business or quality of life.
7. Tell them that DHS was told in 2006 that it would be easy to blur images to protect privacy in the backscatter x-ray machines but DHS ignored the advice. As a result, people’s privacy has been unnecessarily compromised.
8. Tell them that no federal agency is above the rule of law and you are sick and tired of the government eroding your civil liberties and constitutional protections in the name of fighting “terrorism.” Enough is enough.
9. Finally: be sure to tell them that both the Bush administration’s and Obama administration’s failures to fill the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has contributed to the unchecked abuses of power exhibited by DHS and TSA. Getting PCLOB filled and operational needs to be a priority.
Remember to ask them what they intend to do to address this outrageous situation. Be polite, but be firm that you want Congress to protect your privacy and civil liberties and that you are not buying the “terrorism” fear card or the “balancing privacy with security” argument any more.
If your Representative is not on this Subcommittee: write them a letter or email them through their web site, but make your voice heard.
If you’d like, you can use the “comments” section below to post a copy of any letter you send to your legislators. And if you do call your legislators and get a response, please let us all know what they told you.
Please feel free to tweet this post or share it with others who want the rule of law upheld and who want our government to stop eroding our liberties in the name of fighting terrorism.
[day of week corrected]