My little quip about the TSA employing better-looking agents was clearly inadequate. Among other things, they’d also need to allow passengers to select the sex of their patter-downer. And a champagne room. They’d need a couple of those. Also lots of Def Leppard. If the TSA just thought creatively about the problem, you could have a sizable number of travelers yelling “allahu akbar” in line, just hoping to be selected for special scrutiny.
That said, Patterico’s Aaron Worthing has a smart post on the subject of special screenings and John Tyner and it’s all worth considering somewhat seriously.
Airport security has four goals, which to a certain degree are competing. They are, in order of importance:
(1) Keep travel safe.
(2) Keep travel economically efficient.
(3) Protect the majority from undue harassment and annoyance.
(4) Protect minorities from undue harassment and annoyance.
The TSA is tasked with figuring out how to balance these goals in a reasonable manner. That’s a difficult task and one for which we should have some sympathy for several reasons, not least of which because (1) This is still a relatively new problem; and (2) Government bureaucracies like the TSA are constitutionally ill-equipped to make such judgments.
All of that said, there are a couple things which are so obvious as to be beyond dispute, I think. Namely, that the TSA’s expenditure of resources investigating John Tyner is ill-advised at best, and bullying and offensive at worst. The message the TSA is sending through this investigation is that they view the current security situation not as a problem to be solved, but as a set of rules to be enforced.
Second, I think we can all agree that situations change and so security protocols need to be fluid and adaptable. And this is a fact that civilians should be willing to accept with some degree of savoir faire.
Which brings us to the conflicting goals. (1) and (2) are reasonably self-evident–we agree that passengers must be screened in some way but that no acceptable screening regime will be 100 percent effective, because the burdens of perfection would be untenable.
That leaves us with (3) and (4). Some day terrorism in the West may be a multi-cultural phenomenon. This is not that day. The unhappy fact is that there are no Wiccan terrorists. There are no 3-year-old terrorists. There are no Unitarian terrorists. The odds that any given passenger on an American flight will be a terrorist are very, very, very, very small–probably somewhere in the ballpark of 1 in 400 million. But the odds that a 90-year-old Chinese nun will be a terrorist are so infinitesimal as to approach zero.
Post-9/11, America decided–consciously or not–that we would not use these very useful trend lines to profile passengers. (Thanks President Bush!) The calculus was that the price of the inconvenience to the majority was worth the benefit of protecting the minority from bearing special scrutiny.
Yet the costs in this equation have continued to increase. The underlying question in this entire TSA brou-ha is whether or not it’s still worth hassling everyone so as not to wind up only hassling a small group of people, over and over. Maybe it still is. But maybe it isn’t.
The immediate question is whether the new TSA procedures are–qua procedures–effective. Do the backscatter images and enhanced gropings/pat-downs provide better protection for travelers?
If the answer is no–and maybe it is, I haven’t seen actual analysis–then the TSA should abandon them as a matter of course. But if the answer is yes, they do provide some degree of increased security, we have three choices:
(1) Accept the burden for all travelers.
(2) Ask that a small minority of travelers accept the burden–while acknowledging that this is a sacrifice and a mark of forbearance and graciousness on their part.
(3) Decline the marginal increase in security as not being worth either the inconvenience to all or the discomfort of the minority.