With stomachs still full from the Thanksgiving weekend and Christmas music filling the airwaves, it’s safe to say that the holiday season is upon us. As it happens every year, with the holiday season comes the dreaded holiday travel. Those long lines at the airport will become more bothersome this year with the latest security procedures unveiled by the Transportation Security Agency earlier this month.
There has been a recent outcry against the TSA’s full-body scans and the affiliated thorough pat-down reserved for those who opt out of the full-body scan. The causes for the outcry vary from the unknown medical consequences of the full-body scan to complaints of the pat-down being too thorough. Horror stories of the pat-down have been percolating across the internet, with varying degrees of veracity. The TSA has refuted many of these stories or attributed them to the fault of the employee, but despite the public backlash, the full-body scans and thorough pat-downs, for now, continue. The TSA should reconsider their position on the matter, not due to privacy issues, but due to how it reflects TSA’s failing method of flight security.
The TSA is a very responsive agency and has been since its inception just over nine years ago. Normally, this would be something to be praised; however, when the goal is to promote the security of our transportation and capture terrorists before they board the plane, it is better to be proactive than reactive. Terrorists are not prone to returning to the same tactics, particularly after security forces learn about them – yet this is exactly what the TSA is counting on.
After an attempt to blow up an airplane using explosives hidden in shoes, we have to remove our shoes. After an attempt to blow up an airplane using liquid explosives, we can’t take more than a certain amount of liquid past the security check. After an attempt to blow up an airplane using explosives hidden in a man’s underwear, we have to digitally de-robe. The pattern is clear.
The next terrorist is not going to hide explosives in his shoes, his water bottle or his underwear, but he will get past security because these are the things the TSA checks; they don’t actually check the person in the shoes. The TSA must fundamentally change its ways. The full-body scanners and thorough pat-downs should be reconsidered. Not because of possible radiation or an invasion of personal property, but because it seeks out the means of terrorism – knives, guns and bombs – not the person behind the terrorism.
There are also other practical problems with the security as it stands now. First of all, the medical consequences of the full-body scanner are as of yet unknown, though the TSA assures it is safe. Secondly, there is the matter of personal privacy. While a Gallup poll this month showed that a majority of those that have flown twice or more in the past year would not be bothered by a full-body scan, this is done with the premise that everything the TSA has said is true – namely that the machines will not and cannot save your image. It will be looked at briefly then discarded. Yet how is it that a hundred of these images were leaked earlier this year? By the same coin, many have felt molested after going through the pat-down: There are talks of lawsuits and litigation coming TSA’s way as a result. The Gallup poll showed that only 42% of those same fliers weren’t bothered by a full-body pat-down, a significant decrease.
But perhaps most important is the fact that these scanners may not be totally effective anyway. For one thing, they may show things hidden between the clothes and the body, but not within body cavities, which leads me to wonder and fear what the security checkpoint may be in the years to come. Additionally, consider what Adam Savage of “MythBusters” managed to accidentally sneak past the TSA security scanner: two twelve-inch razor blades. What exactly is the point of a security check-point at all if it can’t catch two twelve-inch razor blades?
While the TSA’s use of full-body scanners should be reconsidered, they need to more fully reconsider how they search to stop terrorists. They need to stop searching solely for the means of terrorism – the knives and bombs – and more for those behind terrorism. Until then, they will face a rising tide of frustration from the traveling public.