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Grimace at the Airport, Get the Third Degree

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Selwyn Duke
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Airport security personnel are now empowered to have people arrested for “non-physical interference” with screening duties. If you think that’s bad, just wait until the “behavior detection officers” hit the scene.

One of the consequences of living in an emotion-driven, relativistic age is that things increasingly become, well, relative. There are sexual-harassment and racial-offense standards dictating that if a person feels harassed or offended, the accused is guilty of the given transgression. Now I’ve learned that Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers — those highly-qualified, syrupy-sweet individuals who handle security at airports — can have travelers arrested on a whim. Walter Williams treated this subject and wrote:

James Bovard has an article titled “Federal Attitude Policy” that appears in Freedom Daily (June 2008), a publication of the Fairfax, Va.-based Future of Freedom Foundation. According to the February 2002 Federal Register, people can be arrested if they act in a way that ‘might distract or inhibit a screener from effectively performing his or her duties … A screener encountering such a situation must turn away from his or her normal duties to deal with the disruptive individual, which may affect the screening of other individuals.’ That means it is a federal offense, and a fine of up to $1,500, for any alleged ‘nonphysical interference’ that makes a TSA screener ‘turn away’ from whatever he was doing.

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To be fair, many TSA workers are conscientious, reasonable people; nevertheless, many Americans have had bad experiences with rude, ignorant screeners who revel in flaunting their power. Recounting one of these incidents, Williams tells of how a TSA worker initially told his daughter that she would have to take her two lovebirds out of their cage to satisfy screening procedures. (What folly, releasing suspected avian terrorists — they could have flown into a building.) Just imagine how such power can be abused; respond in kind to an impertinent screener, and you just could end up in shackles. As Williams says:

“What’s nonphysical interference is solely up to the discretion of a TSA screener since it isn’t defined in the regulations. TSA agents can levy fines for a passenger disagreeing with the behavior or arrogance of a screener.”

I hope you can summon a good poker face and pacify a polygraph because airports will soon have 500 “behavior detection officers (BDOs)” to analyze facial expressions, and high-tech equipment to do the same, and also measure bodily responses. Writes Williams:

The job of the BDOs will be that of examining passengers for ‘body language and facial cues … for signs of bad intentions.’ They look for what the experts call ‘micro-expressions.’ Fear and disgust are the key ones . . . because they’re associated with deception.

McClatchy Newspapers (August 2007) reported in an article, “New airport agents check for danger in fliers’ facial expressions,” that Jay Cohen, undersecretary of Homeland Security for Science and Technology, “wants to automate passenger screening by using videocams and computers to measure and analyze heart rate, respiration, body temperature and verbal responses as well as facial micro-expressions.”

Since I despise crowds and congestion and often walk around like a grouch in airports, I can just imagine how I’d make the security computers issue a warning like the robot in “Lost in Space.” Yet I’m reasonable.

There is no way to divorce judgment from security and law enforcement when the issue is evaluating expressions and bodily reactions; one way or another, we’ll be at the mercy of quite fallible humans.

So, how can we ensure real safety?

A nation that was truly serious about its security would guard its borders and expel those who violate them. Until then, the government will just be playing a game, with our liberties . . . and our lives.

This article was posted: Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at 4:21 am

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