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Teen Girl's Strip Search Made Possible by General Neglect of Privacy Rights

Copyright 2002 by David W. Neuendorf

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The Salt Lake Tribune recently reported that a teenage girl had filed a lawsuit in US District Court against McDonalds Corp. and its franchise in Roosevelt, Utah. On her 18th birthday in May of 2002, the young lady had just started her first job at the McDonalds restaurant. An anonymous person phoned in a false tip that she had stolen a little girl's coin purse. Posing as a McDonalds district manager, the tipster ordered two managers of the restaurant, one male and one female, to search her for the purse.

The lawsuit contends that the victim was "strip-searched, forced into prurient poses and ordered to jog in place, naked, in front of" the managers. The search was reportedly conducted in a place that "was open to the sight of other employees and even to people passing by the restaurant's drive-up window." Lawyers for the victim seek to prove that McDonalds is guilty of "civil rights violations ranging from invasion of privacy to false imprisonment and defamation." I would go further and suggest that the managers should face criminal charges of kidnapping and sexual assault.

To me, the most amazing facts about this case are that the managers believed they had the legal power to conduct the search, and that the victim complied with the demands of the managers. How could they have grown up in the United States believing that anyone has that kind of power over another person? Something must have changed in our national psyche to make such a thing possible.

When I showed the article to my clear thinking wife, her immediate response was something like, "What do you expect? With the disrespect toward privacy being shown by school administrations, the girl and the managers probably had the idea that people can be searched at any time for any reason, by anyone with a position of authority." I thought this was a real flash of insight, and proceeded to expand on it.

Schools are the primary contact between young people and government authority, so their treatment of privacy issues would have a big effect on the students' ideas about the right to privacy in later life. Students today have come to expect searches of their persons, lockers and cars; metal detectors at school entrances; and random, suspicionless drug testing. Some schools have gone so far as to claim the power to control the actions of students outside of school hours and school property. Is it any wonder that young people would get the idea that this is the way the world works?

Beyond the schools themselves, students also hear about the court decisions which imply that their rights are negotiable whenever there is an important issue involved. If the courts proclaim that fear of student drug abuse justifies random locker searches and drug testing, who is to say that an accusation of theft doesn't justify a strip search? If the courts allow police officers to stop drivers at random to check for alcohol use, why wouldn't others in authority feel justified in limiting the right of privacy of those under their control?

This young lady should never have considered complying with the managers' orders. The managers should never have considered complying with what they apparently thought was their employer's policy. The fact that they did comply reveals a scary sheep-like tendency that is new among Americans. If our young people will put up with this, how can they ever exercise the vigilance that is necessary to preserve the liberty of succeeding generations?

Parents need to ensure that their children learn about their heritage of liberty, and protect them from influences that weaken their resolve to defend their own and others' rights. We can best do this with our own example, by taking a stand when government at any level ignores the limitations placed on it by the Constitution.