Flying The Erotophobic Skies of the U.S.

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I’m going to Europe next week to teach.

So this week, I’m erasing the porn from my laptop.

Not tons of it—I don’t have tons of it—but a few pictures that I’ve accumulated here and there.

I’m not afraid of bringing adult porn into Europe. I’m afraid of bringing it back into the U.S.. Because our government has given itself the right to seize and search the laptops of U.S. citizens at all international borders without probable cause. The police can’t take your laptop out of your car without a warrant or a clear reason to suspect evil-doing. But they can grab your laptop without probable cause on your way back in from anywhere—Canada, Mexico, Europe, Atlantis, whatever.

What are the snoops looking for? Any damn thing they don’t like. If an agent doesn’t like sex, pictures of your nude wife—or your nude self—can be enough. And if some do-gooder with no training in healthy human sexuality decides that your boyfriend looks under 18 in that picture, you’re on thin ice.

But I’m getting rid of more than just porn.

I have vacation shots of friends and family. A few are wearing bikinis; others wear low-riding pants that show the top of their underwear, whether thong or boxer. See, photos don’t have to be nudes to be considered “indecent”—a completely subjective category that no one can predict in advance.

But I’m getting rid of more than that.

Goodbye to any photos of children other than head shots. Definitely forget pictures of babies in bathtubs or on bearskin rugs, with or without parents. Cheerleader photos. Any photos of young-looking adults who could pass for 17.

Because something can be indicted as child porn even if the picture shows no sex, even if the child is clothed. There’s a crime called “lascivious exhibition of the genitals.” “Lascivious?” That’s about as objective and predictable as “delicious” or “boring.” That’s the vague kind of laws they have in Saudia Arabia and Russia.

He’s paranoid, you’re thinking. No, just well-informed about our lack of rights amidst a horrifying moral panic. Don’t forget about the dozens of innocent people arrested when zealous photo clerks and computer repair shops suspected “child porn.” Besides, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

And what about sexy emails? If you’ve ever told your honey “ooh, let’s pretend I’m your boy,” and you kept a hot little fantasy correspondence, this could easily raise the temperature of snoops.

Traveling isn’t enough of a hassle already, right? And don’t get me started on what the airport screeners are doing about vibrators and whips.

When we fear like this, we do the terrorists’ job for them.

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