The TSA has announced that it will be ramping up security procedures at airports next year, following reports of an embarrassingly low success rate for finding hidden weapons. The new procedures will, among other things, focus more heavily on screening passengers in wheelchairs or with casts on broken limbs. Talk about kicking someone when they’re down.
Americans by and large loathe the TSA because its personnel a) don’t keep us safe and b) violate our basic dignity as human beings by groping us, prodding us, and gaping at body scan images that might as well be nude photography. They do it to keep us safe, so they claim, but that’s the problem. “Safe” is an illusion.
I feel a little — only a little — sorry for the people in charge of the TSA. This modest amount of pity wouldn’t stop me from eliminating their jobs if I had the chance, but it is true that these people have been put in a difficult position.
They are told they have to stop anyone from hurting anyone else on airplanes, an impossible task, and then they get criticized for being invasive when they try to do it. Then again, it’s an unjust world, and nobody is forcing them to work for the government.
The hard truth is that you can’t stop people from hurting each other if they really want to. The TSA can take away my nail clippers and toothpaste at security, but they can’t take away everything that could possibly do damage, because anything in the right — or wrong — hands can be deadly — even the hands themselves.
There’s a famous line about how we’re always fighting the last war, and that’s nowhere more true than in the case of the TSA. If you look at the most recent examples of terrorist attacks, they have mostly been astoundingly low-tech: vans being driven into pedestrian areas and running people down the old-fashioned way. No airplanes were hijacked last year, and it’s not because of the vigorous efforts of security personnel. It’s because terrorists have found a cheaper and easier way of killing people and inciting fear.
Forced to confront the reality that we’re powerless to stop such wanton acts of violence, the TSA tightens its grip on airports. For what? Flying has already become an unpleasant and degrading hassle. What is gained by making it more so, especially at the expense of people who have suffered injuries or disease that already make their lives more difficult?
Unfortunately for the weary traveler, our options for avoiding these invasive procedures are limited. Just as in everything the government touches, a lack of competition means we’re forced to accept conditions that, in a market system, no consumers would ever put up with. We can choose not to fly, but that’s unrealistic for many people and hardly a solution to the systemic problem of poorly managed travel.
Unfortunately, things are unlikely to get any better, in the near term at least. The fear of terrorism remains high, which allows the TSA to justify its existence, and pointing out how ineffective the agency is has only backfired by encouraging them to become more intrusive. Agency officials have expressed hope that new technologies will ease their burden and reduce our discomfort, but the wider problem is this:
We let ourselves be mistreated because we’re afraid, and only the conquering of that fear will end the mistreatment.
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