Governments always seek to accumulate power. Always. It is a natural, almost organic, all but automatic tendency, governments aggrandizing themselves the way some organisms surround and absorb their food.
The beauty of the U.S. Constitution is that is aims to prevent or at least slow this process. It delineates three branches of government, each designed to counterbalance the other two. And it specifically lists an array of individual liberties that lie sacrosanct at the heart of the American experiment.
Adopting these provisions two centuries ago did not mean, however, that the battle was over. In fact, given the present size of the federal behemoth, and its awesome power, and the battering taken in recent years by the Bill of Rights, there is some justifiable fear that the battle is lost.
Thus, there appears to be no stopping the musclebound federal government from snooping into the personal histories of everyone who might want to board an airliner. The plan is rolling ahead despite opposition from the airlines themselves and from civil libertarians.
Of course, this is being done in the name of fighting terror. Terrorists used airplanes on Sept. 11, 2001, and they seem interested in using them again, so that gives the government all the reason it thinks it needs to run background checks on every Aunt Molly and Uncle Elmer who sets foot in an airport.
There will be exceptions, yes. High-dollar frequent fliers will be all but red-carpeted onto airplanes. Most passengers will be coded “green,” meaning they get minimal screening. So the inconvenience to the majority will be minor.
But it’s the principle of the thing that matters. It’s the idea that the government considers everyone a suspect until proven otherwise. It’s the idea that because you want to fly on an airplane you must surrender even more of your privacy, even more of your dignity. It’s the idea that this is being imposed by the bureaucracy with no input from the people or their representatives. And it’s the idea that terrorists are too dumb to get around the rules. This program will accomplish exactly nothing.
There are ways of securing air travel without snooping into every passenger’s private life. Put armed marshals on the planes, bolster the cockpit doors, keep screening for weapons at the gates. But stop waging war on ordinary people. More than that, stop waging war on the spirit of the Constitution