Living in an ‘upskirt’ nation


In the name of national security, we’ve lost a chunk of the dignity that makes us a better nation.

If there’s hope, it may come in the outrage generated by the recent “upskirt” ruling in Massachusetts. Perhaps it will sensitize people to the privacy encroachments all around us, in particular those of the National Security Agency and the Transportation Security Administration.

Gentle readers may not be familiar with the term “upskirt.”

Fifty years ago, you might have thought about Marilyn Monroe in her famous blown-skirt pose from the movie, “The Seven-Year Itch.”

Today, I am sorry to say, you must apply your “True Detective” mindset and think of some creepy sicko secretly shooting pictures up the skirts of women. It is icky business, and it apparently happens more than you’d like to think.

Anyway, authorities in Massachusetts caught a guy by the name of Michael Robertson taking such photos on a trolley. The case eventually made it to the state Supreme Court, which ruled that Mr. Robertson’s act didn’t violate the state’s “Peeping Tom” law. The law prohibits secretly photographing a person who is “partially nude.” Because the woman on the trolley was fully clothed, secretly shooting pictures of her under her skirt isn’t a violation of the law as written.

That’s a ruling only Bill Clinton (the meaning of “is” is) could love.

The good people of Massachusetts were rightly outraged, and it took a nanosecond for the legislature to fix the law.

There’s not much difference between what Mr. Robertson was doing to women on the trolley and what our government does to all of us every day via the TSA and the NSA. You simply can’t travel by commercial airline anymore without having yourself upskirted.

The government puts you in a machine and shoots a picture of your naked self. A TSA agent gives it a good hard look and then stores it.

If you are unlucky enough to be one of the millions of people with a knee or hip replacement and fly out of a smaller airport that doesn’t have one of those fancy upskirt machines, you will likely set off the metal detector and then get the hands-on upskirt treatment. Women, stand by for a breast exam, and men, get ready to have your testicles cupped.

Then comes the National Security Agency. Nowhere has American liberty and privacy been so trampled as here.

Consider this exchange that took place a year ago between James R. Clapper, President Barack Obama’s director of national intelligence, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., at the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Wyden: “What I wanted to see is if you could give me a yes or no answer to the question, ‘Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?’ ”

Clapper: “No, sir.”

Wyden: “It does not?”

Clapper: “Not wittingly. There are cases where they could inadvertently perhaps collect, but not wittingly.”

Then Edward Snowden leaked documents that showed the NSA collects all kinds of data wittingly and routinely on every single American. Clapper then wrote a formal retraction to the committee: “My response was clearly erroneous, for which I apologize.”

Clearly erroneous? That’s the least of it. The dirty little secret is that Wyden knew Clapper was lying in his public statement. So did the committee chair, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and so did the rest of the committee made up of both Democrats and Republicans. They knew this based on information given to them by Clapper in previous secret meetings.

What the senators didn’t know is that as they conducted their Kabuki hearings, all the while letting the NSA trample the constitutional rights of citizens, the Obama administration’s CIA searched the computers of the Senate Intelligence Committee looking for information it believed the committee may have obtained through criminal means.

Talk about poetic justice — the government committee that allows us to get upskirted every day got upskirted by the upskirters. Beautiful.

Wyden now says the spying revelation is “not acceptable in a democracy.”

Feinstein cries, “I have grave concerns that the CIA’s search may well have violated the separation of powers principles embodied in the United States Constitution, including the speech and debate.”

And I say: We’re all getting upskirted. A little more outrage, please.

Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.