Actually, no we didn’t, which Reason TV’s Ted Balaker and Nick Gillespie argue is part of what offends travelers going through the process. They walk people through a training tape for prison guards, instructing them on how to conduct a strip search. Try to figure out the differences between this and a TSA patdown (video mildly not safe for work):
Figure it out? First, they conduct the search in a private area, and second, they don’t actually touch the prisoners:
You’ve heard about the passenger who opted out of a full-body scan (a.k.a. “a virtual strip search”) and was subjected to an intrusive and humiliating pat down. “If you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested,” passenger John Tyner told Transportation Security Administration workers in San Diego.
Well, rest easy, John—and other passengers offended by both full-body scans and hands-on searches.
TSA won’t touch your junk—or your breasts or buttocks. If they begin to strip search passengers as if they’re prison inmates, they’ll do just what correctional officers do: They’ll make you do all the nasty work.
The controversy has gotten the attention of the GOP just in time for its ascension to the House majority. Byron York reports that the issues with TSA go beyond the patdowns that have travelers incensed. They have more concerns over TSA’s lack of effectiveness and that they mainly conduct “security theater” without adding substantially to secure travel:
In addition to being large, impersonal, and top-heavy, what really worries critics is that the TSA has become dangerously ineffective. Its specialty is what those critics call “security theater” — that is, a show of what appear to be stringent security measures designed to make passengers feel more secure without providing real security. “That’s exactly what it is,” says Mica. “It’s a big Kabuki dance.”
Now, the dance has gotten completely out of hand. And like lots of fliers — I spoke to him as he waited for a flight at the Orlando airport — Mica sees TSA’s new “naked scanner” machines and groping, grossly invasive passenger pat-downs as just part of a larger problem. TSA, he says, is relying more on passenger humiliation than on practices that are proven staples of airport security.
For example, many security experts have urged TSA to adopt techniques, used with great success by the Israeli airline El Al, in which passengers are observed, profiled, and most importantly, questioned before boarding planes. So TSA created a program known as SPOT — Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques. It began hiring what it called behavior detection officers, who would be trained to notice passengers who acted suspiciously. TSA now employs about 3,000 behavior detection officers, stationed at about 160 airports across the country.
The problem is, they’re doing it all wrong. A recent General Accountability Office study found that TSA “deployed SPOT nationwide without first validating the scientific basis for identifying suspicious passengers in an airport environment.” They haven’t settled on the standards needed to stop bad actors.
Recreating the Israeli model requires staff trained to look for the right indicators. Hiring 3,000 agents without providing them enough training to be effective is just a waste of money and time. There have been 24 misses of known terrorists at SPOT airports, including a failure to stop Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad from boarding a flight to Dubai. The FBI got him off the plane when they discovered his presence on it through other means.
York points out in this piece that airports are not required to use TSA for airport security, but are required to provide security that adheres to federal standards and answers to federal supervision. So far, according to York, the private contractors appear to be performing at least a little better than their TSA counterparts. Private contractors tend to innovate more, and they are arguably more accountable than those in the federal-employee model with civil service job protection. It’s time to revisit the entire structure and concept of TSA and airport security.
Meanwhile, the “You touch my junk” folk hero has a reward for his protest — a TSA investigation that could result in a whopping fine:
The Transportation Security Administration has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, the Oceanside man who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan. …
Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office in San Diego, called a news conference at the airport Monday afternoon to announce the probe. He said the investigation could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000.
TSA agents had told Tyner on Saturday that he could be fined up to $10,000.
“That’s the old fine,” Aguilar said. “It has been increased.”
The charge is for leaving a security area without permission, which the TSA notes can indicate an attempt to test the system in a dry-run scenario. That’s a fair point. However, unless they have some reason to suspect Tyner of actually intending a dry run, such a probe has at least the appearance of retribution rather than justice or securing air travel. If TSA is expecting that to improve the public reception of its more aggressive security measures, then they will be very disappointed in the results.