Airport Security -- New RulesThere’s been a lot of buzz about the TSA’s screening procedures, which include the backscatter x-ray (apparently known by some TSA personnel as the “porno scanner”) and enhanced pat downs. Complaints are that the scanners are invasive, and the pat-downs amount to sexual assault.

One of the best, and most detailed, takes on the entire situation comes from security expert Bruce Schneier. I urge you to read it and examine as many of his links as possible.

Here’s my take:

The TSA’s new security technology and enhanced pat downs do not make us safer.

One might argue that it’s OK to trade our 4th amendment rights for the right to safer air travel. Even if this were OK – the new security measures do not make us safer. Here are some of the reasons:

  • Rafi Sela, former chief of Airline Security for Israel stated, “”I don’t know why everybody is running to buy these expensive and useless machines. I can overcome the body scanners with enough explosives to bring down a Boeing 747.”  (more on the Israelis in a bit)
  • The TSA has never caught a single terrorist, every enhanced security precaution is a response to the last attack. The body scanners and enhanced pat-downs are a response to the underwear bomber. X-raying shoes is a response to the shoe bomber. Most recently, terrorists tried to mail bombs to blow up planes. The mailed bombs were not detected by current technology – human intelligence stopped them.
  • The Israelis use behavioral profiling and have, arguably, the safest airline in the world. No pat-downs, no body scanners. They have even caught people who had bombs but didn’t know it (the two thought they were smuggling drugs).

The TSA screening is likely to kill more people than terrorists do

Bruce Schneier breaks down the numbers, but given radiation dosages alone, we can expect more people to die from backscatter x-rays this year than from terrorists. However, these new x-rays focus all of the ionizing radiation on the surface of the skin – rather than having it pass through the body. This may mean higher incidents of melanoma  from these scanning machines.

Additionally,  Nate Silver on the Cites a Cornell Study that

“roughly 130 inconvenienced travelers died every three months as a result of additional traffic-fatalities brought on by substituting ground transit for air transit. That’s the equivalent of four fully-loaded Boeing 737s crashing each year.”

Personally, I know of many people who are not traveling by air specifically to avoid the TSA searches.

The searches are invasive and most likely unconstitutional

Certain government officials are going around stating that the American public is in favor of the body scanning x-rays. This is a blatant misuse of statistics and essentially a lie. The question people responded to, back in 2008 was something like, “there is a new technology that may help officials spot weapons people are trying to carry on planes, should airports deploy such new technology.” Of course people said yes – there was no downside.

What if we asked the question this way:

According to research your chances of dying from a terrorist attack are lower than the following: dying in a car accident, by walking across the street, by drowning, in a fire, by falling, or by being murdered. We would like to use technology to slightly mitigate that risk by some unmeasurable amount but we would suspend your fourth amendment rights, take naked pictures of you and your children and show them to strangers, and allow strangers to sexually assault you and your children. Oh yeah, if you don’t want us to violate you or your children, you’ll be fined $10,000. Would you be in favor of such measures?

How many people would agree to that?

Reports of abuses by the TSA abound. IANAL (I am not a lawyer), but I believe that the searches are unconstitutional. Don’t take my word for it: here’s video of a former TSA official admitting they violate the 4th amendment.

The TSA’s screening technology and enhanced pat-downs are expensive “security theater”

So, if the body scanners and pat downs violate our rights, and don’t really make us safer whats the deal? One issue is that we have former director of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, who has a financial stake, through the Chertoff group, in the companies that manufacture the naked body scanners. there is a monetary incentive for us to rely on technology like this, and there are well-paid influential lobbyists whose sole job is to sell this malarkey to our political officials.

Beyond that, we like to make a good show of security, make the public think we’re keeping them safe. This time, the TSA may have gone too far. The backlash against their procedures and technology is building. Congressman Ron Paul has introduced legislature to disband them (although I’m guessing it won’t go far). There are airports that don’t use the TSA, and I’m hoping that more airports will stop using them.

Schneier argues that the money spent on these machines is better spent on intelligence, screening baggage, and screening airport employees. I agree. I’d love to see the US learn how the Israelis keep their planes safe and have done so for 30 years. They had secure cockpits and armed pilots decades before 9/11.  Responding to the last terrorist attack will never make us safer from the next one.

Ultimately, if we agree to give up our constitutional rights to an ineffective bureaucracy, we have lost so much of what it means to be American.

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