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TSA Screening

November 16, 2010
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I’ve been watching with interest the latest flap over airport security and the TSA.

One of the reasons that it amuses me is that for a little over two years, ending last December, I was traveling for work full-time by plane. It was annoying to go through all the security checks but not terribly invasive. Denver airport–almost alone among all the airports I traversed–regularly pulled my luggage aside to check my plastic container of Metamucil. As a powder it’s not prohibited nor is one required to pull it out of the bag, so I didn’t.

I did once forget that my paring knife, which I had used at lunch, was still in my shoulder bag instead of my checked bag. That caused all sorts of excitement. They used a tape marker that showed my knife was less than 4″ long–it was maybe 2 1/2″ –and they were about to confiscate it and let me go on my way when an officious rules Nazi showed up to say that the first screener was measuring it wrong and that since the tang went all the way down the handle it would have to be considered more than 4″–a serious offence. I’d have to make a statement to the county sheriff before I could proceed. Fortunately, they brought out a supervisor to adjudicate the situation and she decided just to keep the knife. It was about fifteen years old and pretty dull, so no big deal.

I’m sure frequent travelers all have stories like this and I’ve heard a few. The point is, it’s not security–it’s security theater. Taking my knife or not did not make that flight one bit more or less secure. Full-body scanners, pat-downs, groping bodies and luggage: none of it helps. All it does is ensure that in case a terrorist does get on board the rest of the passengers are totally unarmed.

We’re in this situation in part because Americans believe in technology and we are certain that the right application of technology will solve all our problems. There is a different kind of scanner that uses sensors to “sniff out” whether a person is carrying anything explosive. While at least not invasive like the full-body scans, it can be fooled.

The only thing that will help is what the Israelis do: sophisticated profiling. Our bigger problem is that for flawed politically correct reasons our government, no matter which party has been in charge, won’t do the one thing that has been proven effective. Until that changes, be prepared to give up your civil liberties and either strip down or not fly.

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