TSA: Out in left field

Shadowlight Theater poster, 1963. Milton Glaser

The TSA keeps on keeping on. Between May 4th and 10th, 2012, here’s what they found on the roughly 10 million air passengers* in US airports during that period.

  • Firearms: 30 - 29 loaded; 1 unloaded
  • 1 artfully concealed prohibited item found at checkpoints

TSA’s homepage posted this link to the story of one of their employees who helped thwart an abduction on his way to work at the Dallas/Ft Worth airport. Good on him.

At the TSA Blog, the find of the week was a disassembled gun and ammunition found in a three of a child’s stuffed animals, one of which was Mickey Mouse.

This is just another example that threats can appear anywhere and this is why our Officers take a closer look at everything. It’s also an example that shows that even though we’ve made changes to how we screen children 12 & under, the security process is still just as effective.

Meanwhile in Salt Lake City, a Savannah Barry, diabetic sixteen-year-old girl with her physician’s letter in her hand, was coerced into undergoing a full body scan which damaged the software in her $10,000 insulin pump.

“I was like, ‘Are you sure that I can go through with this insulin pump? It’s not going to hurt the pump at all?’ And she was like, ‘No, no, you’re fine.’ So I went through with my pump. Some part of me knew that it wasn’t OK, but when someone in a position of authority is telling you it is, you think that it’s right,” said Barry.

Although TSA policy clearly states that diabetics can travel with their insulin and have the right to opt for a pat-down, there have been ongoing problems  and according to a staff attorney for the American Diabetes Association training in the field has been lacking.

Finally, Bruce Schneier explains what’s wrong with profiling people at airports.

Any bureaucracy that processes 630 million people per year will generate stories like this. When people propose profiling, they are really asking for a security system that can apply judgment. Unfortunately, that’s really hard. Rules are easier to explain and train. Zero tolerance is easier to justify and defend. Judgment requires better-educated, more expert, and much-higher-paid screeners. And the personal career risks to a TSA agent of being wrong when exercising judgment far outweigh any benefits from being sensible.

The proper reaction to screening horror stories isn’t to subject only “those people” to it; it’s to subject no one to it. (Can anyone even explain what hypothetical terrorist plot could successfully evade normal security, but would be discovered during secondary screening?) Invasive TSA screening is nothing more than security theater. It doesn’t make us safer, and it’s not worth the cost. Even more strongly, security isn’t our society’s only value. Do we really want the full power of government to act out our stereotypes and prejudices? Have we Americans ever done something like this and not been ashamed later? This is what we have a Constitution for: to help us live up to our values and not down to our fears.

*Note: My very conservative estimate based on number of passengers reported by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics for January 2012, the most recent month available.