TSA story: the mother of all civil-liberties battlefields,
or a red herring?
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That the Transportation Security Administration is infringing air travelers’ fundamental rights is one of the few questions on which virtually all of us are agreed. Progressives and libertarians are equally offended by the agency’s conduct, and suddenly this is The Big Story all over the internet, and now it has the attention of Congress and some of the mainstream media.
But why now? Why is there such an outpouring of outrage now, in 2010, when the TSA has been using the scanners since 2007?
Actually, I can think of two theories, either or both of which might explain this timing.
One is simple partisan politics. It is possible that opponents of the Obama administration would like us to focus our attention on the TSA as an example of big government intruding on our lives. This theory entails a prediction: that most of those asserting vociferous outrage are Republicans; I have not yet examined every source, but so far, this appears to be true. Conservative and libertarian pundits have long made a theme of portraying Barack Obama as a security-state totalitarian busy installing an apparatus of surveillance and repression, and they are not above blaming Obama for policies instituted by the Bush administration.
If this is what the Republicans are doing, they are being as adroit as the man who asks if you’re still beating your wife. There is nothing Obama can do that they will not attack. If Obama continues implementing the airport-security policies of the previous administration, he is a totalitarian. If he doesn’t, he’s soft on terrorism.
There is also, however, a second and more cogent theory to explain why the TSA is a concern today and not, say, before the election, when it might have swung a few more votes into the GOP column.
As of this writing, the Supreme Court is preparing to consider AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion. Lawyers for AT&T and its allies will argue that there is no reason why corporations shouldn’t be free to require their customers to sign contracts waiving their right to sue in favor of arbitration; at stake is nothing less than American consumers’ right to file or join class-action lawsuits, the most effective weapon we have against corporate fraud and malfeasance. The right to join a union may also be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, Congress is mulling recommendations from the Deficit Reduction Commission, among them a delay in Social Security retirement eligibility which is based on false assumptions about longevity and would effectively sentence many working-class employees to work until they die.
Unlike the TSA story, these two events are unglamorous. It’s not easy to make a compelling headline about them, not easy to arouse the ire of both right and left. But they are important to a lot of people, and they’re about to be decided now, whether we pay attention or not.
Is it possible that certain interests would like us to foam at the mouth about an insult to our privacy that’s been going on for three years and take our eyes off those who are about to inflict real injuries upon us?
Update: As of 16 April 2015, this page comes up blank.