Monday, July 4, 2011

Security Risk?

We all know air travel is a pain. From yesterday's Drudge Report.

A Miami photographer was escorted off a US Airways plane and deemed a “security risk” after she snapped a photo of an employee’s nametag at Philadelphia International Airport Friday.

Sandy DeWitt said the employee, whose name was Tonialla G., was being rude to several passengers in the boarding area of the flight to Miami.

So DeWitt snapped a photo of her nametag with her iPhone because she planned to complain about her in a letter to US Airways. But the photo didn’t come out because it was too dark.

However, once DeWitt was settled in her seat, preparing for take-off, Tonialla G. entered the plane and confronted her.

“She told me to delete the photo,” DeWitt said in an interview with Photography is Not a Crime Saturday morning.

DeWitt, who already had her phone turned off in preparation for take-off, turned the phone back on to show her that it didn’t come out, but deleted the photo anyway.

“I complied with her wishes but it’s not something I would normally do,” she said. “It just wasn’t usable.”

But Tonialla G. wouldn’t let the issue go. She then walked into the cockpit to inform the pilot that DeWitt was a “security risk.”

Tonialla's behavior is a result of unchecked power. She cried "security risk" because she confused DeWitt's right to free speech (taking a picture of her name tag presumably to complain about Tonialla's behavior) with an, at best, flimsy claim that that free speech compromised the security of the passengers on the plane. Not only did her actions have a profound impact on DeWitt (she was escorted off the plane and, despite the fact she was a "security risk" placed on another airline, arriving at an airport 45 minutes from her home in the middle of the night with no means of transportation home) but Tonialla's tantrum delayed other passengers and trivialized the very real security concerns that exist in our air travel system each day.

Consider the following:

In May, I flew from Oakland to Baltimore. The security line was the zoo it always is. Except this time I was behind two Muslim women dressed in black gowns and head scarves. As I was removing my shoes, then my jacket, my scarf and my hat, I noticed that the two women sailed through without even removing their head scarves. No body scan, no enhanced pat-down, no questions. I queried the TSA agent--how was this possible?--and he said that any passenger can attempt to go through security without removing their jacket or head scarf, etc., but TSA has the right to detain them and pat them down. Except they didn't. And, as he was finishing his explanation I turned to see my daughter who wore a hooded sweatshirt being patted down instead.

In June my husband boarded a flight in Phoenix. The flight was delayed while all the passengers' ID's were checked against the manifest so the flight crew could identify the extra passenger on board. The man seated directly in front of my husband was not ticketed on the flight and was escorted off the plane. While the agent's found the passenger in the end, how did he get on the plane without a ticket in the first place?

Today, a good friend was in the security line at Oakland Airport. Behind her was a man with a ticket who spoke only enough English to tell the TSA agent, "No ID." In other words, he had a ticket, but no ID. The man was escorted out of line and when my friend inquired of one of the agents whether he would get through without an ID, the clerk replied, "Well, it will take him a long time."

Tonialla G., if you are listening, take note. Now, those are legitimate security risks.

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