Michael Roberts, the airline pilot who helped raise public awareness of the full-body scanner program, gave a very libertarian-sounding speech at a recent conference. The text of Mr. Robert’s speech follows.
On January 6, I participated in a panel at a conference hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in Washington, DC entitled, The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures. The broad coalition of speakers included Representative Rush Holt, Ralph Nader, New York City Councilman David Greenfield, and representatives of the Libertarian Party, the Council on American Islamic Relations, Flyer’s Rights, and the CATO Institute. The well-organized conference was streamed live and filmed by CSPAN and several others. The following is a transcript of my speech before the attendees:
It’s important to think clearly about exactly what it is that we are resisting, and what effective resistance entails. Throughout history, citizens of every kind of government, facing all kinds of crises have cried out to the state: “Deliver us from evil.” The state invariably answers that it must be given more control in order to meet the people’s demands for its protection and provision. Governments are made powerful only by the consent of the governed. The people take comfort in creating for themselves a higher power to stand between them and the uncertainty of things beyond their control. The state is established and ascribed with the power to meet the needs and desires of its creators. But, being inherently impotent, it is most essentially interested in the transference of power away from the many into the hands of a few. Whatever ancillary agendas or obligations it has, the primary business of the state must be to secure the strength needed to bring its intentions to pass. Promises are exchanged for a disproportionate share of the power that has been equally endowed by the laws of nature and nature’s God to the people themselves.
Now – as it has happened throughout history – a subtle but comprehensive shift is underway in the relationship between the people and the government in the United States and, indeed, throughout much of the waning free world. Roles are being reversed with regard to who is accountable to whom. In our context here today, consider: law-abiding travelers are being ordered about by government security agents, told to remove our shoes, our belts, and even prosthetic body parts. We are instructed to stand in docile compliance and pose for the imaging of our naked bodies or, and sometimes in addition to, the physical invasion of our personal space and literal bodily and sexual assault. Recorded announcements are made in airport terminals, with desensitizing repetition, warning us that we may be arrested if we dare to openly question or ridicule this madness. It may be difficult for the infrequent traveler to believe that these things are truly happening. Yet right now in America travelers are bartering their personal sovereignty in exchange for the ability to move about within their own borders by air, to perform their work, or even to attend a conference and express their indignation against the state’s egregious assault on our basic rights and dignity.
In any exchange we must choose carefully between the value of one alternative and that of another. On October 15, I was confronted with a choice between access to my workplace and my essential dignity as well as the right to be secure in my person against unreasonable search and seizure. Countless others are being made to choose every day between their livelihood and their freedom. The choice to fly for a living, or otherwise, and to simultaneously enjoy the assurances expressly guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment (and by the rule of law in general) that we will not be accosted by government agents has been taken from us without any meaningful semblance of due process. If passenger airlines were permitted to offer their services in a free marketplace – with our without the humiliating mistreatment of their customers – perhaps an accurate assessment could be made of how much so called “Transportation Security” the market is truly inclined to bear. Unfortunately, however, the determination has evidently been made that we the people are not fit to choose for ourselves in this regard. And when the executive decree was handed down to use federal Recovery Act funds to stimulate the economy by abusing the traveling public, the people most affected – those of us who work within the industry – began to question whether the value of our jobs outweighed that of our personal rights and liberty.
But that was not the only exchange we had to consider. First Officer Howard Pinkham of US Airways placed the value of his passengers’ safety above that of his own livelihood when he declared himself unfit to fly as a result of his traumatic security screening experience. His flight was canceled and the airline’s passengers were unable to reach their destinations as planned. I’ve personally spoken with many crew members who acknowledge the psychologically upsetting and performance degrading effects of the TSA’s unlawful and invasive actions, but who have nevertheless chosen to fly under the duress of fear that to do otherwise may adversely affect their employment status. Other traveling professionals – too many to count – have given similar reasons for continuing to subject themselves to these abuses. To reiterate, people are compelled to comply with the violation of their personhood, and even the degradation of passenger safety, because they are afraid of what will happen if they refuse. And coercion by fear, called by any other name, is nevertheless the very epitome of terrorism. Whereas politicians make promises in exchange for power, the leveraging of fear to control the actions and decisions of others in society is the work of tyrants.
We’re not talking about security at all here. This entire situation is a national embarrassment and disgrace. But, above all, it is our security itself that is most threatened by the attack of our Constitution’s domestic enemies – many of whom are somewhere in this city with us today. Their criminal actions clearly violate the legitimate bounds of the state’s constitutionally delineated jurisdiction. If our bodies belong to the state, we belong to the state. I urge everyone to carefully consider the value with which you regard your natural rights and liberty, and whether it is ever justified to peddle them in the market at any price. What will you profit even if you gain the whole world and forfeit your own soul?
Michael Roberts [send him mail] is a pilot for ExpressJet Airlines, Inc. On October 15, 2010, he was denied entry to the terminal area of Memphis International Airport when he withheld consent to be virtually strip searched by means of Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) or, in lieu of AIT, to be physically frisked by government security agents without probable cause. He and another pilot are now suing the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. Michael and his wife, Patti, are home-schooling parents of six children ranging from ages one to eight.