Monday, November 26, 2012

Why Americans should be concerned about the TSA

With Thanksgiving holiday travel coming to a close, it’s a good time to discuss the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. That’s because many Americans will have encountered the TSA first-hand over the last week or so.
Many people blindly support the TSA on the assumption that the agency is keeping us safe from terrorism. They say the TSA’s body scans and pat downs aren’t such a big deal and that inconveniences like restrictions on liquids and taking off your shoes, belts and other apparel are simply necessary evils to combat terrorism.
But the threat of terrorism has been greatly diminished by the U.S. fight against the Islamic militant organization al Qaeda, especially with the death of leader Osama bin Laden.
And airline passengers have stepped up to stop on-board threats since 9/11 taught them that hijackers can use planes as weapons. The “shoe bomber,” the “underwear bomber” and others have been stopped by passengers, not airport screeners.
Many studies have shown that the TSA is an ineffective organization that likely causes more harm than good. It’s made air travel a major hassle, especially those long security lines, and likely has cut demand for flights.
I’m sometimes asked why I have a problem with the TSA.
My main concerns with the TSA are two-fold: the agency’s actions are an affront to the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens and the organization is a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars.
On the first point, the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that citizens should not be subject to searches of their bodies and homes without probable cause. Police officers can’t just stop and frisk people or search their cars and homes because they feel like it.
But TSA agents routinely pat down innocent passengers on a supposedly random basis or if they refuse to enter the agency’s full-body scanners, which are the subject of health and privacy concerns.
The TSA has caught flak for patting down children, who have been educated that strangers should not touch them. It also has been criticized for patting down the elderly and the infirm. Rape victims find TSA pat downs to be especially traumatic.
Some say, “Well, you don’t have to travel by plane if you don’t like the TSA’s procedures.” But that’s not being realistic. Plane travel for business and leisure is part of modern living.
If citizens give up their rights to be “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” as the Fourth Amendment states, for the sake of security, their liberty is at risk. It’s a slippery slope to more government control over its citizens.
People might not see airport pat downs as a problem, but they need to consider the bigger picture of where this could lead.
The TSA already is expanding its purview to train and bus stations and the nation’s highways – all in the name of security.
The TSA also has shown little regard for oversight. For instance, it has ignored court-ordered safety checks of its radiation scanners. It oversees itself and answers to no one. If airport security were still run by private contractors, they would be subject to government oversight and could be replaced by other companies if they didn’t perform adequately. You can’t replace or reform the TSA if it supervises itself.
The TSA also has a reputation for retaliating against its vocal critics.
On the fiscal front, the TSA has become a massive works program for the federal government. The now-unionized TSA work force provides “security theater,” but little else. The agency has done a piss-poor job of screening checked luggage and overreacts to the smallest of potential threats.
It also has done a lousy job with hiring and supervising its workers. Hundreds have been arrested for theft from passenger luggage and an alarming number has been busted for child pornography and sexual offenses.
Various airport TSA outfits have been accused of racial discrimination, sexual abuse of women, incompetence, sleeping on the job and other misconduct. This is in addition to frequent complaints that TSA workers are rude and bullying.
I support disbanding the TSA and privatizing airport security again, as well as reforming and streamlining airport screening procedures so they are more efficient and less invasive. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Republicans and Democrats are to blame for creating this mess in reaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now they must clean it up.

Photos: Photo illustrations by Max Trombly

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