7 Simple Reasons to Axe the TSA

Originally published on my blog here.

The desire to end the TSA’s infamous abuse is at this point fairly cross-partisan, and anti-TSA sentiment runs particularly high among regular air travelers.  New outrages are a regular feature of the news cycle, but resistance to the Transportation Security Agency is far from universal.  So here, in no particular order, are seven variant reasons why the TSA has got to go:

1. Basic human and constitutional rights. A frail, 95-year old leukemia patient forced to remove her adult diaper. Children — even babies — subjected to invasive patdowns.  A bladder cancer survivor left covered in his own urine.  The list goes on and on, and new stories of TSA assaults on dignity and privacy appear almost daily. These are violations of very basic human rights — not to mention unconstitutional.  The Fourth Amendment guarantees our right to security in our “persons” — and it doesn’t have an “unless you want to travel by air” clause.

2. If you’ve done nothing wrong, you do have something to worry about. All those examples in #1? Entirely innocent people without terrorist connections of any sort. One of the most common arguments in defense of the TSA and the national security state in general is along the lines of “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” The TSA’s record of abuse pokes huge holes in this “No law is unjust if it isn’t hurting me” mindset.

3. The TSA doesn’t make us safer. The TSA has never stopped a single terrorist attack, and its methods are grossly ineffective. At the beginning of this month, it failed to halt a passenger using an expired, stolen boarding pass listing a name which didn’t match his ID. Actual attempted terrorist attacks (such as the Christmas Day underwear bomber) since 9/11 have all been halted by other people or government agencies; the TSA maintains a zero-win record.

4. Actually, it makes us less safe. Security expert Bruce Schnei­er has argued that the TSA is merely “a show designed to make people feel better” which doesn’t in reality keep anyone safe.  “We defend against what the terrorists did last week,” Schnei­er added, maintaining that the TSA provides no more safety than pre-9/11 security practices did, while wasting money which could be spent on more effective — and less draconian — counter-terrorism measures.

5. Hypocrisy writ large. TSA employees regularly violate legislation already on the books banning inappropriate touching — basically, sexual harassment:  “If the perpetrators were a gang of criminals, their headquarters would be raided by SWAT teams and armed federal agents. Unfortunately in this case, the perpetrators are armed federal agents.” Laws which do not apply to officials of the government ostensibly enforcing them are hypocritical at best — and the TSA is hypocrisy on a huge and disgusting scale.

6. Lies and doublespeak. Honesty is not the TSA’s best policy — even about its own policies.  It is clearly stated on both the TSA website and blog (Yes, they blog. Is that supposed to be cute or something? I don’t know.) that filming and photographing checkpoints is not prohibited. But in the wake of dozens of viral videos of TSA abuses, TSA agents at some airports are now claiming it is TSA policy to disallow all recording devices in security areas.

This shouldn’t be surprising, however, given the TSA’s history of deception to protect itself. For instance, the agency now denies removing the elderly cancer patient’s adult diaper in the case mentioned above and duplicitously “insists it does not ‘confiscate’ anything” — because obviously millions of Americans are dying to donate their nail clippers to help government surplus stores make a quick buck.

7. Private security would be at least as effective (and likely less invasive). Even defenders of the TSA admit that “it’s not obvious that they prevent any more attacks than the private contractors who handled checkpoints before the Aviation and Transportation Security Act of 2001 went into effect.” I’d contend this assessment is far too cautious.  Rather:  The TSA is an abject failure at everything but abusing our rights, and it’s high time we replaced it with a market-accountable private alternative.

Such alternatives — not mandated by the federal government — would allow airlines and airports to respond to customer demands for privacy while developing more efficacious ways to deal with legitimate terror threats.  Indeed, the “free market can and does produce excellent security in many industries, [but] no government agency will ever care about the bottom-line security and profitability of the airlines more than airlines themselves.”

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