Comment of the Day: “From The Ethics Alarms “Res Ipsa Loquitur” Files: Now THAT’S An Unethical TSA Patdown”

The post about the TSA agent’s excessive “patdown” of a young boy, caught on video, prompted spirited debate with many high quality comments.

Before presenting John Billingsly’s COTD, let me note up-front two of John’s points that I disagree with. First,while refusing to follow an illegal order is mandatory, the fact that one is given an order to do something unethical—and this patdown was unethical—does not reduce the responsibility to refuse if the harm to another is clear, obvious, and objectively unjust, as in this case. Second, everyone involved in a wrongful act is accountable, from the top of the chain of command to the bottom. I also have a third and fourth, but I’ll let others cover those.

Here is John Billingsley’s Comment of the Day on the post, From The Ethics Alarms “Res Ipsa Loquitur” Files: Now THAT’S An Unethical TSA Patdown:

According to a report at, “Afterward, the TSA officer was instructed by his supervisor, who was observing, to complete the final step of the screening process.” My emphasis added. This suggests to me that the agent himself was going to break procedure and omit “the final step” of the screening process, which I believe to be the genital grope, until he was directly ordered by his supervisor who was there in person to do it.

I understand the “just following orders” issue per the Nuremberg Trials. It looks like he was going to disobey the order (procedure) until he received the direct order from his supervisor. I don’t think there are many low level employees who would immediately disobey a direct order of a supervisor in that situation. When you are a grunt at the bottom and your boss tells you to do things the way you have been taught to do them, it is going to be very difficult to make the decision to disobey.

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From The Ethics Alarms “Res Ipsa Loquitur” Files: Now THAT’S An Unethical TSA Patdown

Fire that guy. Just fire him. Or suspend him without pay for a good long time.

No, on second thought, fire him.

There is no excuse for this, just reasons. The main reason is that the TSA agent is being an asshole, if not a pervert. I am patted down a lot—as an adult, wearing a suit. This is a kid in a T-shirt and shorts. What is he supposed to be hiding? No child should be subjected to this indignity, and no parent should have to stand by and endure it.

The mother who took the video  complained that her family was”treated like dogs” and forced to miss a flight during an extensive security check, according to her Facebook post:

We have been through hell this morning. They detained Aaron for well over an hour at DFW. (And deliberately kept us from our flight… we are now on an alternate) We were treated like dogs because I requested they attempt to screen him in other ways per TSA rules. He has SPD and I didn’t want my child given a pat down like this. Let me make something else crystal clear. He set off NO alarms. He physically did not alarm at all during screening, he passed through the detector just fine. He is still several hours later saying “I don’t know what I did. What did I do?” I am livid. Please, share… make this viral like the other children’s videos with TSA… I wish I had taped the entire interchange because it was horrifying. We had two DFW police officers that were called and flanking him on each side. Somehow these power tripping TSA agents who are traumatizing children and doing whatever they feel like without any cause, need to be reined in.

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Sandy Hook Ethics Train Wreck Classic Quote: “A Foolish Consistency Is The Hobgoblin of Little Minds…”


I hear Ralph was good with a knife.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, who uttered the title above, would have loved the Federal government, for which consistency in logic or policy is often alien indeed. In the midst of a mass effort to disarm the American people of guns with the dubious logic and arrogant presumption that they don’t need powerful weaponry since, after all, the government will save us, the TSA, it has been revealed  to me by my observant son, has secretly adopted exactly the opposite position, using polar reasoning.

My son, who likes knives almost as much as he likes guns, showed me several potential weapons in his collection that would legally pass through the new air travel regulations. He notes that officials defending the lifting of the ban on blades that could do as much damage as the box cutters of 9/11 have pointed to the self-reliance of air passengers, who have subdued several mid-air threats. “Don’t you get it?” my son says. “They’re arming passengers! They won’t say that directly, but it’s pretty obvious. The passengers on Flight 93 had to boil water and use food carts. Now hijackers might be facing a hundred angry people with knives.”

I get it! An armed and ready populace is a good thing! When the government says so, that is. So…. it makes sense to arm untrained air passengers when they face a deadly threat without police nearby, but schools should be “gun free zones” and it’s nuts to arm untrained teachers…indeed, trained and law-abiding gun owners should be disarmed lest they shoot Harvey Milk. I hearby predict that the little knife policy will last until a child gets killed by a mad airplane coach passenger wielding one, whereupon President Obama will invoke his “save just one child” rule, Rep. Rangel will declare that millions of children are being killed by little knives, and Jim Carrey will tweet that nobody who cares about children would oppose a little knife ban. The knives will then be not only prohibited again on airplanes, but will be confiscated by edict, since there’s no Bill of Rights provision protecting little knife ownership.

The behavior of our elected officials is consistent after all.

Emerson’s quote applies perfectly.

Why Professionalism Is Essential: TSA Edition

The man behind the curtain is pointing and laughing....

The man behind the curtain is pointing and laughing….

Taking Sense Away is a fascinating blog operated by a former TSA screener. It is essential reading for air travelers, libertarians, critics of the TSA and anyone else interested in the strange, often infuriating  airport security procedures that have evolved since the events of 9/11/2001. His perspectives are not universally accurate in all cases (he reminds us frequently), but it can’t make air travelers happy to read the following, which he recently revealed as part of his answer to an inquiry from a reader about the unseen aspects of screening:

“Now, the I.O. Room (the image operator room, where your nude images are viewed at airports that still use the backscatter x-ray full body scanners), that, my friend, is a whole different story. In the image analysis room, no one is permitted to leave or enter without ample warning (part of TSA’s promise to the public that officers “would never see the passenger whose nude image they just viewed,” although I did occasionally witness this being violated, see Confession #1) and, like the private screening room, recording devices of any kind are prohibited. So in summation: what you have are one to two to three TSA officers locked in a room, viewing nude passenger images, with a guarantee that no one can barge in on them, and that no surveillance cameras can legally be present.

“Just use your imagination on the stories among TSA officers of what has gone on in the I.O. room. Personally, in the I.O. room, I witnessed light sexual play among officers, a lot of e-cigarette vaping, and a whole lot of officers laughing and clowning in regard to some of your nude images,  dear passengers.  Things like this are what happens (at the very least) when you put people who are often fresh out of high school or a GED program (although there are actually a few TSA screeners with PhDs, which I guess is sad on so, so many levels) with minimal training and even less professionalism, into the position of being in charge of analyzing nude images of people in a hermetically sealed room.”

Nice, huh? Continue reading

Of T-Shirts, Delta, Racist Ding-dongs, and a TSA Incident Worth Screaming About

How frightening.

A brown-skinned  blogger named Anjiit recounts a recent outrageous incident in which he and his wife were kicked off a flight and subjected to extra-screening by the TSA because he was wearing a satirical T-shirt mocking airport security. The episode occurred at the Buffalo-Niagara airport, and the airline involved was Delta.

We had cleared the security checkpoint without incident, but while waiting at the gate, a Delta supervisor informed me my shirt had made numerous passengers and employees “very uncomfortable.” I was then questioned by TSA about the significance and meaning of the shirt. I politely explained that it was “mocking the security theater charade and over-reactions to terrorism by the general public — both of which we’re seeing right now, ironically.” The agents inquired as to the meaning of the term “ZOMG” and who it was that I thought was “gonna kill us all.” As best I could tell, they seemed to find my explanation that I didn’t think anyone would be killing us all and that I was poking fun at overwrought, irrational fears exhibited by certain members of the flying public to be satisfactory.  And moreover, they clearly deemed my shirt to be no legitimate threat. The Delta supervisor then told me I would be able to board the plane, but only after acquiescing to an additional security check of my and my wife’s belongings and changing my shirt. He went to lengths to explain that my choice of attire was inappropriate and had caused serious consternation amongst multiple individuals, and that ultimately “It’s not you, it’s the shirt.” Continue reading

Ethics Dunce: Sen. Rand Paul

Sen, Rand Paul, protester.

Sen. Rand Paul, libertarian and Republican U.S. Senator from Kentucky, has a choice: he can be a high elected official of the United States government, or he can engage in civil disobedience. He cannot do both.

Sen. Paul was detained today by the Transportation Security Administration in Nashville, Tenn., after refusing a full body pat-down following an image scan that did not clear him through security. I feel his pain. But a United States Senator must obey the law and cooperate with all lawful activities of the U.S. government and its agencies. If he objects to pat-downs so much, he has the power and influence to wield to try to change procedures and policies. Apparently they were not so burdensome while thousand of other citizens endure them every day.  Now that Sen. Paul is facing a feel-up from a gloved stranger, he is suddenly over-come with principle. Easy for him, too, since unlike us mortals, Senators are exempted by the Constitution from being detained while on the way to work.

For a U. S. Senator to defy a TSA agent who is attempting to keep the skies safe in the manner determined to be appropriate by the U.S government encourages and implicitly endorses defiance by everyone else.  That is a breach of Paul’s duty as a high elected official of the United States.

Ethics Quiz: Apologies For A Sandusky Joke?

My uneasy relationship with the TSA continues.

Yes, I've sunk so low that I actually seek this out...

Today I was returning home from Atlanta, and its monster of an airport has one the cattle pen systems for going through security–a long, ling, line to all gates that keeps dividing and dividing, ultimately sending you down one of about 20 chutes to be scanned, stripped and yelled at. It is difficult to pick your chute, but in my case, it is crucial: Atlanta doesn’t have the full-body scanning devices in every line, and without it, I get gated, beeped, and sexually molested, thanks to my artificial hip.

It took ducking under a couple of barriers, but I finally got to an x-ray conveyor belt near a scanner, and had removed my laptop (separate bin) belt, jacket and shoes (not allowed in a bin in some cities, allowed in others) and lined them all up with my bag and brief case when an agent (none too politely) told me that they were closing that line, and directed me to another one, two lanes over. I lugged the three bins, bag and brief case over to that line, only to discover that it didn’t have a scanner.

That did it. I erupted at one of the agents, telling her that I did not care to be felt up at 8 in the morning, thanks, and had made a good faith effort to direct myself to a scanner, being foiled by the agent and by the fact that there are no signs warning people like me where a testicle massage is the only option.

“Why aren’t there signs?” I asked.

“I don’t know. There should be,” she said, as she helped me move my stuff to a scanner accessible line. “You should write the TSA and the airport.”

I laughed bitterly. “I’m sure that will do a lot of good. Do you all jsut like feeling up passengers? Is that the reason?”

A woman behind me laughed and said, “It sure seems like it!”

“Well, you know,” I said to her, “I hear Jerry Sandusky is trying to get a job as a screener!”

Her guffaw was interrupted by 7’8″ TSA agent, who said, loudly, “No he’s not, and I’m offended by that statement.”

My response, after a second’s consideration, was this: “I’m sorry I offended you. But I’m not apologizing.”

Your ethics quiz of the day: Should I have apologized? Continue reading

What Would Happen If, While Submitting To a TSA Search, You Started Singing “The Piña Colada Song”?

"Would you cut the comedy please? I'm trying to feel you up!"

A retired Air Force Lt. Colonel apparently was arrested at a TSA airport checkpoint after she refused to stop reciting the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights (“Searches and Seizures”) while she was being screened. You can read her account here.

I’m not going to jump on the bandwagon of the various commentators from both sides of the political spectrum who are leading condemnation of the incident. My interest is in the ethics of the encounter and its subsequent reporting, as I do not see this as an example of official abuse and suppression of rights.

I object to much of how the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA has handled airport screening policy since 2001, as I discussed in this post and elsewhere. I agree that the public should not meekly accept what it regards as unjustified intrusions on their privacy, dignity and health, and that complaining, petitioning the government, putting pressure on elected and appointed officials and leveling criticism in various forums is a necessary and reasonable response. Nevertheless, the episode described in the accounts of this arrest has been mischaracterized. It was a situation in which TSA agents were placed in an impossible situation for the purpose of generating third-party indignation. The woman engaging in the protest also targeted individuals who can only be called innocent parties, the TSA screeners. They have a job, they have procedures to follow, and they have to follow them. They also have a lousy job, having to brush up against the privates of strangers while being glared at or verbally abused.

My question, as with many protests, is, “What was the objective here?” To be as annoying as possible? To cause a scene? To let everyone in the vicinity know that the woman objected to the procedures? To come as close to interfering with the screening process as possible without justifying an arrest? To get her name in the papers? To delay her fellow passengers, most of whom just want to get through the vile process and make their flights?

Or to get arrested? Continue reading

Final Ethics Verdict on TSA’s Feel-Up Pat-down

I was flying this week, and the security procedures were smoother than ever. Now I am certain that my molestation at check points last year was unethical, and have sufficient evidence to conclude that it was based on government incompetence and willful disregard for my comfort, dignity, and rights.  I am also wondering, more than ever, if the ardent, supposedly liberal defenders of the indefensible feel-up pat-downs have learned anything about the dangers of blind government obeisance and partisan loyalty. I hope so.

The saga so far: Continue reading

Democracy Works: Pat-Down Update and the Duty to Bitch

I was traveling by air again yesterday. As usual, I went through airport security and, as usual, I set off the buzzer with my platinum hip, which try as I might, I just can’t get into one of those gray plastic trays. As usual, I was directed to the cattle pen waiting area until an agent could give me my enhanced pat-down, because also as usual, the quick, convenient, preferable and unjustly maligned full body scanners weren’t available.

I was asked if I was familiar with the new procedures, to which I answered, “You have no idea.” And the nice, friendly, professional agent game me the full-body massage, but with a difference: now, as he pointed out carefully, he was directed to use only the back of his hand when approaching my happy places, and he was extremely careful to avoid any touching that would make Sean Hannity complain on the radio.

All the bitching, you see, worked. Continue reading