In Pursuit of Life, Liberty, and… Enhanced Pat-Downs?


The White House.

Mike Houle, Writer

Ever seen a streaker at some sort of big event? Multiply the severity of that by a hundred and throw in the Secret Service toting around fully automatic rifles and you’ve got the situation that happened a few weeks ago.

On September 19th, Iraq War veteran Omar Gonzalez was able to simply climb over the fence surrounding the White House and sprint across the lawn before actually managing to enter the White House itself. This massive security breach has sent the Secret Service into a frenzy in their attempts to implement even more security measures in the area surrounding the White House, leaving many to ask the question, “Why not just lock the doors?”

Suggested measures to prevent further breaches include random bag searches in nearby blocks, the creation of security checkpoints in public areas, and the banning of access to the sidewalk surrounding the White House entirely. The loss of public space and possible intrusions into the personal lives of the citizens dredge up the old question of where we draw the line between security and freedom.

Safety in our daily lives is important, but when that safety starts encroaching on the values of freedom and liberty that we like to think we pride ourselves on, what message does that send about the direction that we’re heading in as a nation? This is an issue that has been on people’s minds now more than ever, considering the recent revelations about the NSA from Edward Snowden and seeing just how militarized our local police forces are following the riots in Ferguson, Missouri.

It’s quite possible that we’ve already experienced a taste of what’s to come in the increased security measures implemented after 9/11, and I’m quite sure that very few of us have ever left an interaction with the TSA with a smile on our face. Granted, completely reworking our security system was warranted following such a great tragedy, but the overall effectiveness of the process comes into question when a citizen is detained because his bottle of aftershave was mistaken for a hand grenade.

“Enhanced” pat-downs and having someone rummage around in your bag are bad enough in the airport, but the thought that that sort of high level security is going to be implemented in public spaces is surprising, to say the least. As stated before, the problem lies in finding the balance between safety and freedom, with either one unable to be achieved as long as the other exists. It’s impossible to plan and prevent against every possible contingency while still maintaining our freedom and it’s impossible to call ourselves free if our government is forcing itself into our lives in the name of national security. We’re at the turning point as a nation where it’s up to us to decide if we want to sacrifice our dignity for the sake of feeling a little bit safer from any and every threat. While it may help us sleep a little bit easier at night, is it really a life worth living at that point?