If you’re getting ready to fly home for Christmas, you have to ask yourself this: Are airport scans and pat downs making us safer or playing into the hands of terrorists? Are they even legal? As millions of Americans pass through security lines at the nation’s airports, many will find themselves victims of overaggressive, theatrical safety precautions that do almost nothing to protect travelers, and waste valuable resources that could better be used attempting to identify likely terrorists.

Law professor Fred H. Cate says, "The new search policies violate long-held social and legal norms about personal privacy. Even though searches might detect wrongdoing, we reject them on the basis that the ‘solution’ is worse than the ‘problem.’ Since the TSA’s new policies are unlikely to detect wrongdoing, the searches aren’t a ‘solution’ at all.’" According to Cate, Intrusive searches often don’t work. He says, "They have been repeatedly shown to miss potential explosives and other contraband. Hand searches of medical devices–for example, an insulin pump–are simply incapable of determining whether the anomalous device presents a threat. After agents finish feeling the breasts of a woman with an implant, they have no better idea of whether the implant is filled with liquid explosives or silicone."

Americans’ danger detectors are cranked up way too high these days, but we don’t have to be held hostage by our anxiety. Psychologist Mark Reinecke says, "We live in an age of anxiety, whether it’s economic worries or potential terrorist threats, or how you are going to care for your aging mother. There are a whole range of things that come at us as a society that make us feel more anxious than at any time in our recent history." He recommends making a realistic assessment of whether a bad thing will happen, and says, "You should prepare for the most likely scenario, not the worst case, because it is statistically very unlikely. Anxiety is a natural and adaptive emotion from an evolutionary perspective: It protects us from perceived threats.

But it leads to neurochemical and cognitive changes, which prepare us for fight or flight. We tend to overestimate the likelihood of bad things happening and underestimate our ability to cope. According to Reinecke, "We perceive many things as threats that are really not threats at all."

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