Thursday, November 18, 2010

Airport security?


Okay, it's time for me to weigh in about the "enhanced" security measures to which the TSA is subjecting travelers in the U.S.
Like an increasingly vocal minority, I find aggressive pat-downs and overly-intrusive x-ray images offensive and worrisome, and I'm not sure I believe the claims that they would have thwarted the "underwear bomber." In The Naked Crowd, Jeffrey Rosen makes the case that this invasive security screening in the airport is conducted more for the peace of mind of the passengers than for its practical benefit. The "naked machine," as he calls it, promises a high degree of security, but demands a correspondingly high sacrifice of liberty and privacy. The machine could be easily reprogrammed to project the extracted images of concealed objects onto a sexless mannequin, but Rosen found when questioning students and adults since 9/11 that some would prefer the naked imaging over the alternative. The responses - they have nothing to hide, they don't want to take a chance that the other machine is less accurate, they no longer have any expectation of privacy at the airport, they are willing to undergo an electronic strip search to prove their own trustworthiness - lead him to conclude that the public is more concerned about feeling safe than being safe (read the full argument here).

Beyond the warranted concerns about radiation exposure and the violation of personal privacy, it is my firm opinion that our security concerns are misplaced. I agree with Captain Sullenberger, who says of the pat-downs, “I can tell you from my perspective as an airline pilot for three decades, this just isn’t an effective use of our resources.” The Economist points out the great expense of the scanners, which may go to waste if they are scrapped like the previous "miracle" screening technology, the $160,000 "puffer" machines which weren't as effective as promised at detecting explosive particles.

There are so many ways around the system for a determined terrorist. The scanners are not installed at every airport. The pat-downs would not reveal material brought on board in a body cavity. Joe Sharkey writes in the New York Times that the proposal to opt out of body scans in favor of pat-downs on the day before Thanksgiving will result in the kind of chaos that terrorists seek as a diversion. But as Atlantic columnist Jeffrey Goldberg points out, "By the time terrorist plotters make it to the airport, it is, generally speaking, too late to stop them. Plots must be broken up long before the plotters reach the target. If they are smart enough to make it to the airport without arrest, it is almost axiomatically true that they will be smart enough to figure out a way to bring weapons aboard a plane." He suggests - and I agree - that it is counterproductive to subject all passengers to these new humiliations. Goldberg makes his point with humor during a recent interview with Stephen Colbert and in his suggestion that male passengers wear kilts to allow TSA agents to share in the embarrassment.

My suggestion is that we focus on the largest gaps in the system, for instance by screening more than just a percentage of air cargo.

1 comment:

  1. Photographing nude children can land a person in jail. Touching another person's privates can land you in jail. Unless you are a TSA agent.

    ReplyDelete

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