Sunday, September 21, 2014

Point of Brew: Breweries also ignore the Fourth Amendment


From page A7 | August 01, 2013 |

Over the years, I have visited many breweries in many places. In all cases, I was subject to some level of scrutiny: I signed in by time and date; I was issued a visitor’s name tag, safety glasses and a hard hat. Several breweries required that I wear special shoes, remove my wedding ring and empty my pockets.

Always I had to identify whom I intended to visit and then wait while that person confirmed the appointment and came to the front office to identify me and escort me into the inner sanctum.

I never thought this was any violation of my rights or that the requirements made unreasonable demands upon me. Quite the opposite, really, because an intruder in a food plant (a brewery, in this case) has the potential to injure and even kill many people. Security has its place, I suppose, and entry to a brewery seems a reasonable place to have it.

I’m not sure therefore, at least in principle, why I get so upset about the Transport Security Administration inspection at airports.

I recently took a pleasant trip to Costa Rica that required me to pass through TSA security six times. Because I have more metal body parts than most folk, I usually set off the metal detectors and, in fact, worry if I don’t. There then follows an invasive “pat down” that leaves me about as grumpy as I ever get. The only thing that prevents me putting up a huge fuss is that I may be denied access to my flight or worse, Tased into submission or, in post-Zimmerman times, shot.

Things have improved recently at TSA. I am now old enough to leave my shoes on during this humiliating passage and the new scanners considerably reduce the invasiveness of the “pat down.” Nevertheless, the TSA experience remains an unpleasant one and I doubt I am alone in this opinion. Moreover, I speculate that this practice of searching everyone on the assumption that we are all potential suspects of terrorism is not in keeping with our Fourth Amendment rights.

The Fourth Amendment has come to the fore in recent months because of the revelations of Edward Snowden; he informed us that the National Security Agency collects “meta-data” (whatever that is) about communications among individuals in this country and abroad. Some folks get very worked up about this; after a recent failed congressional vote attempting to ban the practice, Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, declared among other things “… then our government sees everyone as a potential suspect. That is nowhere in the Constitution…” He then says that we should all have a right to “due process” (which is in Amendment V) in keeping with our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. He could say the same about the TSA.

Now you can see my problem. I think the TSA groping and search of my stuff, and seizure of some of it, is a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment. But it’s out in the open and everyone knows about it. As a result, I, and thousands of other travelers every hour of every day, acquiesce to this search and seizure because we don’t want our flight knocked from the sky by a bomb-toting fanatic.

Asked if we would and should do away with the TSA, we all should and I would answer, “Yes, of course, I will not have my Fourth Amendment rights violated!”

But then come second thoughts. Am I really brave enough to insist on the right to fly without security? Would I choose to fly around this world with hundreds of other people, none of whom I know and each of whom might wish me and my country ill and who might be plotting nefarious things?

To illustrate that point I recall one international trip that had an odd event. The cabin air irritated me and I let loose a sturdy sneeze; a soft voice said “God bless you!” and I turned to see the speaker was a Muslim cleric with a white beard, the most intense sparkling blue eyes and a charming smile. I smiled and thanked him for his blessing. However, I noticed that his seat companion, also a cleric, was praying with fervor toward the window and I assumed Mecca.

When we disembarked more or less together, these two Muslim men were picked up, very roughly, by burly British security and, protesting, were hustled away. Who knows? In retrospect, I suppose, I could have read that Muslim blessing as a threat.

I know I’m supposed to get worked up about meta-data and government intrusion, but, frankly, I just don’t have the energy for it. I grew up in a different time and place and so tend to have greater trust in government than most Americans; I know it’s crazy but I can’t help it. Also, I wonder if most people are more upset because the NSA practices were clandestine than because they exist.

I know by bowing to the slightest intrusion of the NSA and TSA and CIA and FBI and IRS and EPA and FDA and ACA, and whatnot, we are on that legendary slippery slope to enslavement and the catastrophic loss of all freedoms and life in these United States as we know and love it.

But I can’t give absolutists like John Garamendi that satisfaction. If anything, I am suspicious that meta-data is merely a government boondoggle; after all, it failed to uncover the Boston bombers with their Chechen contacts and foreign travel and phone calls and who were flagged by the Russians as trouble-makers.

If I can tolerate security as the price of entry to a brewery, I guess I can manage the rest. I suppose it is possible and probably necessary in these tumultuous modern times, to have a reasonable balance between some intrusion into those elusive constructs called Freedom and Privacy, that were never absolute in the first place, and the security of the nation.

— Reach Michael Lewis at Comment on this column at





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