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ALA in the Airport?

The ALA Midwinter Meeting (do NOT call it a conference!) must be getting close, because the ALA Council list is heating up over the latest issue to call for condemnation by the American Library Association: the TSA implementation of full-body scanners. This is an important issue for American Libraries!

Safe Libraries Guy already wrote about this, but things have gotten even stranger since his post. In that post, we see that someone wrote an ALA Councilor with the following question:

I’m looking into Midwinter travel plans and am basically entirely freaked out that I have to choose between having a naked photo taken of me or being groped in order to fly to Midwinter….

What I’m wondering is: given its longstanding emphasis on privacy, does ALA have a stance on these issues?  And given its value of intellectual freedom, are they going to have my back if I face repercussions for speaking out?

This is a curious question. What stand, exactly, should the ALA take on this? Are the scanning machines going to be placed in American libraries? If not, then what business is it of the ALA?

And what does it mean, “are they going to have my back if I face repercussions for speaking out?” Wouldn’t that depend on where the repercussions were from? I suppose if an ALA member spoke out about this and faced repercussions at work, then the ALA could take it’s typical stand and say absolutely nothing public about the matter.

But the repercussions for “speaking out” could be many, depending on where and how one decided to “speak out.” If you start yelling, “get your flabby fingers off my hooha, you pervert!” as you were being groped by a TSA guard, the ALA would just take the same stance and say nothing public about the matter. I think you can pretty much assume the ALA hasn’t “got your back” unless you’re an American library, and possibly not even then.

The arguments have gotten stranger since Safe Libraries Guy blogged about this last Wednesday. Some people are desperate to make this a library-related issue. For example, here’s one weak argument (excerpted from a very long email sent last Thursday):

Air travel is the only mode of transportation available travel from the east coast to San Diego the first week on January.  I cannot fulfill my commitment to attend midwinter unless I submit to being physically violated….

So it is true TSA’s practices do not apply to libraries, but they do apply to librarians who are members of ALA and are making sacrifices to volunteer on committee to serve the association,  and to ALA staff who are required to travel for their job.  Our professional association owes it to their staff and membership to take action against the TSA’s practices that violate it our right to be secure in our person AND  chill the exercise of our First Amendment right to freely assemble.

That first statement is what we in the library world call a “falsehood.” Air travel is definitely not the only mode of transportation available from the east to the west coast in January. It’s just the fastest. One could drive and make the trip from New York to San Diego in 45 hours, according to Google Maps. If you don’t want to drive, pay Amtrak $279 and you can take the train. That’s a pretty good deal. It’ll take you 75 hours to get there, but you don’t have to fly! The train is a more civilized way to travel anyway. If you want to go really cheap, an “advance purchase” ticket for $220 will get you from NYC to San Diego by Grayhound bus in only 80 hours! Imagine seeing Iowa, Nebraska, and Utah by bus!

The second part makes the mistaken assumption that the ALA cares about what happens to librarians. How many times do people have to be told that it’s the American LIBRARY Association. It’s not a professional organization dedicated to librarians, but to library service to the nation. Years ago I analyzed the ALA’s mission statement to show this. Maybe I’ll have to dig out that old post.

By Friday, the concern had turned from the irrelevant to the bizarre when one Councilor asked, and I quote, “Can some of my collegues please tell me how the scanning of children, where their genitals can be clearly seen, is not creating pornograph images of them?” Was the assumption that if the TSA is creating child pornography, that somehow that would make it an issue for the ALA Council? And that TSA guards were going to be masturbating in front of their scanners as if they were watching porn on public library terminals?

I haven’t bothered to check if any colleagues obliged, but I can answer the question. The question confuses nudity with pornography. If they were the same, then that picture you have of your naked newborn infant or your toddler splashing in the bathtub would be pornography. Here’s what the U.S. Code has to say on the matter:

(8) “child pornography” means any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where-
(A) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;
(B) such visual depiction is a digital image, computer image, or computer-generated image that is, or is indistinguishable from, that of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
(C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct.

At least according to the U.S. Government, who enforces the code and controls the TSA, such images would not be child pornography because there’s no sex involved. You see, “porno” means “sex,” not “nude.” Unless you could argue that walking through an airport scanner constituted sexual activity, then there’s no child pornography. End of story.

To be fair, there were some very sane and balanced Councilors who pointed out that this issue had nothing to do with libraries or the ALA, which probably explains why the arguments got more desperate.

Personally, I believe it is a civil rights issue, and that the TSA is going too far in search procedures that most of us know just create the illusion of security. Between 9/11 and the implementation of this new security, there were no successful airplane bomb attempts. That’s a pretty clear signal that U.S. intelligence and passenger diligence have been pretty successful.

ALA members should beseech the calmer members of Council not to make any resolutions about airport security procedures. Unless libraries start opening in airports (which so far has happened only in the Netherlands, as far as I know), there’s no relevant connection. ALA members who are concerned citizens should find another outlet to protest. Give your ALA dues to the ACLU and stay away from the airport.



  1. AL, I will be writing a followup on this. It seems the ALA Council consensus was not to get involved. Then the OIF rode to the rescue to say, not in so many words, the ALA is already involved, it will continue to be involved, and the ALA Council can take a flying leap.

    Worse, it appears the $350,000 grant from George Soros to the ALA for “privacy” is a direct catalyst for the OIF’s involvement. It is possible the ALA has been bought by George Soros as another means to work his anti-American mischief, and the ALA Council is powerless to stop it.

    ALA Council, you know the ALA should not be involved, but the OIF told you it is, and the involvement is deep. Are you going to sit back and do nothing? Will members continue to support a George Soros front group?

    Those are the issues I will be examining in my next post on this issue.

  2. This stuff is unbelievable. As I’ve said before (and it appears that the AL agrees) – this is what the ACLU is for.

    Incidentally, George Soros is not the devil. You may not like his politics, but that doesn’t make him “anti-American.”

  3. notattending says:

    Also, how did this get from a discussion about whether ALA should be involved with political issues outside of libraries and evolve into tinfoil hat/libral/soros/conspiracy whargarrbl, safelibraries?

  4. Bruce Campbell says:

    Surreal stuff. I had my junk scanned back in May at the ATL airport. It was awkward, but more so for the person looking at me naked.

  5. This is why nobody I know pays ALA dues whose not comped by thier employeers. I think the next issue to take up banning toys in high fat Happy Meals unless it comes in a Baker and Taylor cat bag.

  6. I’m thinking about asking the ALA to protest the recent spread of mortgage documentation fraud committed by big banks. The ensuing lawsuits are clogging the foreclosure process, thereby contributing to the stagnation of our economy — which indirectly leads to librarians having a tougher time finding employment.

    Absurd, sure — but, after all, that’s an issue that’s way less tangential to librarians’ well-being and professional mission than the TSA scanners are.

  7. Ugh. This kind of argument just makes me want to stop renewing my ALA membership. There are other organizations a person can join in order to protest the TSA screenings. ALA is already spreading itself too thin by trying to cover so many extra-library issues. Please, SafeLibraries just join another organization and fight the good fight there. There’s no prohibition on joining two, unrelated associations at the same time.

  8. I thought that SafeLibraries would be APPLAUDING any and all screening techniques. If we oppose them, then the terrorists win! Freedom grope!

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