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Why do people accept DUI checkpoints and airport body scanners?
July 15, 2012 7:20 AM   Subscribe

In a country which believes in liberty and 'innocent until proven guilty', why do people accept DUI checkpoints and airport body scanners? I'm trying to get opinions that help me understand a perspective that's not my own.

This seems to run contrary to what I believed about America growing up. Did I have the wrong idea? What would be a more accurate message to give to our kids if 'innocent until proven guilty' is wrong or too naive?
posted by phoeniciansailor to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Public safety. Drunk driving and terrorism are very real threats that have killed many people. We accept these invasions to protect ourselves and our loved ones.
posted by amaire at 9:24 AM on July 15, 2012


Some people don't accept it and fight against it. Some people disapprove, but do not have the inclination to do anything about it. Some actively approve.
posted by pyro979 at 9:42 AM on July 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think to some degree you're misunderstanding the concept of "innocent until proven guilty." The presumption of innocence is attached to legal proceedings in order to protect the rights of the accused -- it gives people accused of crimes the right to an attorney, the right to a trial (in which the burden of proof rests with the prosecution, not the defense), the right not to be forced to testify, etc.

I'd argue that the (significant) issues that are raised by DUI checkpoints, body scanners, etc. are really more privacy issues, not issues regarding the presumption of innocence.
posted by scody at 9:46 AM on July 15, 2012 [20 favorites]


I don't know how old you are and when you grew up, but I grew up during the Cold War and in school, the freedoms of America (speech, assembly, voting, etc.) were always contrasted with the lack of freedoms in the Soviet Union, the hated "other." Now that our "enemies" are different, the narrative is different. That's my cynical take. Also, it can be argued that the concept of presumption of innocence applies to the courtroom. It doesn't give everybody the right to fly on airplanes.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:52 AM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


Driving is not a right but a privilege, granted only to those willing to forgo minor aspects of rights such as privacy for the clear and obvious common good.

Besides, when you cross the street at a light, do you look both ways? Even if it does, in a sense, presume your neighbors to be potentially guilty of either negligence or homicide to do so? Asking for a license and registration at a DUI checkpoint presumes guilt in a similarly meaningless way. If something about a driver gives an officer reason to detain them on suspicion, note that this is distinct from a presumption, of a criminal act such as drinking and driving then the driver still has the right to an attorney before answering any questions, the right to refuse any tests, and importantly, the right to a fair and speedy trial before any declaration of guilt is made.
posted by Blasdelb at 10:01 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Drunk driving is a very real threat and they actually catch at least some drunk drivers. I don't understand why we accept body scanners. My guess is that it is a combination of apathy, not knowing they can opt out, and the hassle that the TSA overlords put you through if you do. It is tough to resist when you know they can and will cause problems such as delaying to miss your flight.

As far as a real risk of terrorism, Americans are more likey to be killed by their furniture than terrorists.
posted by Silvertree at 10:14 AM on July 15, 2012


Roadblocks designed to identify drunk drivers have been challenged in court and always found Constitutional. I don't know what you're suggesting people should do beyond that; the US is certainly a country where most of the citizens claim allegiance to ideals of personal freedom, but also to ideals of the rule of law and the Constitution.

Also, drunk drivers are a real thing and have killed many people. I think most people in the US have at least peripheral knowledge ("my cousin's former boyfriend," "my ex-boss's younger son") of people who have been killed in accidents involving drunk driving.

The TSA security theater I can explain less easily. Part of it is rhetoric about terrorism, and part of it is that the Patriot Act is like a war powers act in the levels of power it arrogates. Lots of people (self included) are campaigning against the Patriot Act.

The thing about the TSA security theater violations of privacy is that there's no option for effective civil disobedience against them. If you don't comply, you can't fly, and if you continue to register your objection, you can be removed from the airport. So people who actually want to travel grit their teeth and go along with it. There are certainly lots of public challenges to the wisdom of the security protocols, people writing to the FAA, the DHS, and their elected representatives about the issue, and so on.

What kind of response from the public would seem more in line with what you expect from US citizens' ideals about liberty and freedom?
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:46 AM on July 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because your rights end when they infringe on my rights.

Drunk drivers are a public safety menace, therefore, we give police the authority to check for them using sobriety checkpoints.

As for terrorist screening, what's the alternative? We accept that we're all suspect. It's invasive, especially the new scanners, but to gain greater safety, I'm willing to put up with it.

I will say that it used to be that if the drive was over three hours, that I'd rather fly. With the hassles of flying now, it's up to six hours or more.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:54 AM on July 15, 2012


In a country which believes in liberty and 'innocent until proven guilty', why do people accept DUI checkpoints and airport body scanners?

Huh?

I mean, I can see these being construed as an infringement upon "liberty". They are, and there's no real question about that. But what do they have to do with being innocent until proven guilty? They're not a punishment. They're just a search. They implicate the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, but not any kind of Due Process right to be free from unfair punishment.

Others have explained the justification for these searches: they are considered acceptable infringements on liberty because they serve to prevent far more significant problems, e.g., drunken driving and terrorism. The security theater that is airport screening is of increasingly dubious value, but the value of random checkpoints and saturation patrols in preventing and/or reducing drunk driving is well recognized. The CDC estimates that states that employ sobriety checkpoints see 20% fewer alcohol-related crashes compared to states that don't. Considering the relatively minor infringement upon one's liberty involved in these checkpoints, the costs seem to outweigh the benefits, something the courts have repeatedly recognized.

You should probably read up on Mich. Dept. of State Police v. Sitz, where a defendant challenged the constitutionality of sobriety checkpoints. The majority opinion--a 6-3 holding--held that the searches are okay, but that there have to be certain protections. The cops can't just set up a random checkpoint any way they feel like it, nor can they only stop black drivers, or women drivers, or whatever. The NHTSA has come up with recommended procedures on that score. For example, the decision has to be made by a supervisor, not an officer in the field. The cars stopped must be chosen by some neutral formula, e.g., every car, every third card, etc., not by the officers' discretion. The location has to be a known site of frequent drunk driving. It has to be for a limited amount of time. People not drunk need to be released as quickly as possible. Etc.

The idea here is that while random sobriety checkpoints are okay, the cops can't just set up "Show me your papers" checkpoints at random. We have police, but this isn't a police state. The cops need to act like they're really trying to specifically prevent drunk driving by tailoring their checkpoints to that specific purpose. Otherwise the infringement upon citizens' liberties is held to be too great for the alleged purpose to justify the stop.
posted by valkyryn at 1:24 PM on July 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


If your upbringing didn't include the reading of Orwell's 1984, you might find some good answers there. Basically, the government uses public safety as an excuse to limit personal freedom.

The specific problems used to rationalize the anti-privacy measures are always unassailably bad, so that when you question them, you get answers like the ones you see above.
posted by bingo at 3:19 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I'm not mistaken phoeniciansailor, you (Texas) and I (Minnesota) live in states where the state Supreme Court has interpreted the state constitution to prohibit these violatons of personal liberty. Given our respective states rather differing views on such things in general, I can only assume that there are arguments from the left and from the right that both reach the same conclusion.
posted by mygoditsbob at 4:20 PM on July 15, 2012


I'll go even farther: what exactly "liberty" means in the American sense has ALWAYS been somewhat in flux, from the beginning. I think people have too much of a tendency to look at our founding documents through rose-colored glasses, even when it leads to comical self-serving hypocrisy.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 4:26 PM on July 15, 2012


you (Texas) and I (Minnesota) live in states where the state Supreme Court has interpreted the state constitution to prohibit these violatons of personal liberty.

State supreme courts are entirely capable of interpreting their own constitutions to mean that. Nothing stops any state from offering more civil rights than are present in the U.S. Constitution. That's federalism at work.
posted by valkyryn at 6:05 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Randomised or checkpoint testing for drink driving isn't about innocent-until-guilty, that's a principle of courts and trials. If you're drunk and you blow a positive test, and you go before a court, you're still entitled to a presumption of innocence. Being stopped and/or arrested isn't a punishment by the State in the same way a fine or a custodial sentence is.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:44 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Texas legislature attempted to ban body scanners but caved when the TSA said "No body scanners, no flights."
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:14 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


And dig this prototype system being introduced at Love Field in Texas.
posted by Sidhedevil at 7:17 PM on July 15, 2012


This seems to run contrary to what I believed about America growing up. Did I have the wrong idea? What would be a more accurate message to give to our kids if 'innocent until proven guilty' is wrong or too naive?

Yes, the platitudes are mouthed but not really true. The flip side is that many people here accept shocking things as natural or inevitable because they believe what they were taught about America, and therefore believe it's worse elsewhere.

A more accurate message for kids is that in the USA, money buys justice and freedom, and without it you have little of either, so stay in school and learn how to make the big bucks!
posted by -harlequin- at 7:37 PM on July 15, 2012


In a country which believes in liberty and 'innocent until proven guilty', why do people accept DUI checkpoints and airport body scanners? I'm trying to get opinions that help me understand a perspective that's not my own.
Government, like a corporation, is made up of people. The founders of the United States wrote a lot of official and unofficial documents about their motivations and intents. But people voting for and running the government pick and choose what they follow and what they ignore.

So if you feel that the government isn't being run as it should, it is your responsibility to vote for people who will run it properly, or become one of those people yourself.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:54 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not every state has DUII roadblocks. They aren't legal in Oregon, for instance.

I also think you're conflating the rights you enjoy if the state prosecutes you for a crime compared with what happens on an everyday basis to people enjoying the services of government. You surrender certain aspects of privacy in exchange for freedom in other areas. In an airport, it's the freedom to travel by plane in exchange for pretty much complete loss of privacy. On the road, it's your implied consent to take a breath test in exchange for the privilege to drive.

I'm not arguing that these tradeoffs are good things, per se, but they are how our society functions. Being a defense attorney, there's only one area that I see the presumption of innocence upheld, and that's with a criminal jury. Even then, I'm constantly having to kick people off the jury for cause when they say ridiculous things like it should be my job to disprove my client's guilt.
posted by Happydaz at 9:38 PM on July 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think WordWoman is onto a lot in terms of us no longer having an enemy to contrast our freedoms with, so we're able to get a lot worse in terms of freedoms because we're not trying to show off how much better we are anymore.

But more importantly, I think it's because of our lack of connection to family and history, and our willingness to marginalize the older generation. We get these things, like DUI checkpoints, and full body scanners. Many of us fight against them loudly, and refuse to use them, etc. But our children will have grown up where that is the way it is, and anyone protesting against them is hopelessly out of touch.

It is not about safety. Most people don't approve of them. But they also don't really have a good way to boycott effectively.

Also, some of it's the frog-boil. You don't have to get full-body scanned yet, at many airports. There's still a chance for those who hate it to avoid it and go to the metal detectors. But every other person who goes through the full body scanners is a person who says "It's not so bad." And that's an acceptance that spreads.
posted by corb at 9:49 PM on July 15, 2012


Asking for a license and registration at a DUI checkpoint presumes guilt in a similarly meaningless way. If something about a driver gives an officer reason to detain them on suspicion, note that this is distinct from a presumption, of a criminal act such as drinking and driving then the driver still has the right to an attorney before answering any questions, the right to refuse any tests, and importantly, the right to a fair and speedy trial before any declaration of guilt is made.

I personally have never been stopped at a DUI checkpoint, but have been checked after getting pulled over for a different offense (accidentally running a red light). It is my understanding that not submitting to a breathalyzer in certain states (i.e. New Jersey) warrants the same sentence as a DUI - fines and license suspension.
posted by hrj at 10:23 AM on July 16, 2012


Because most people say something dumb like, "are you planning on breaking the law?" And then *POOF* go your freedoms and privacy.
posted by keepkalm at 3:41 PM on March 28, 2013


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