TSA gettting more hands-on


By Brittany Hunter - Contributing Columnist



Every time the government makes a mistake (a frequent occurrence) the people pay the price for its bureaucratic incompetence — both through tax dollars and forced compliance.

Since its inception, the Transportation Security Administration has repeatedly failed to do the job it was created to do. However, with each public failure comes increased funding or a reconfiguration of department heads in order to appease the public into feeling secure under their watch.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the TSA’s entire existence is nothing more than “security theater,” a fact internal drills and internal assessments keep bringing to light.

Perpetual Failure

A couple of years ago, it was revealed that the TSA had failed to catch 95 percent of the contraband items that Department of Homeland Security personnel had put in their luggage to test the competency of security screeners.

Instead of using this information to innovate with the process, as any private entity would have done, TSA resorted to arbitrary initiatives that were supposed to increase public approval.

In what we can only hope was an act of desperation, the agency tried to regain the public’s confidence by spending $1.4 million on an iPad application that served no purpose other than showing travelers which security line they should use by randomizing an arrow that points either left or right.

This, of course, did little to calm public fears, but it did reiterate the ridiculousness of the whole agency.

Now, after TSA has had years to improve its screening abilities yet failed to make any progress on its efficiency, the agency has recently announced its plans to punish travelers for its own mistakes by subjecting them to more invasive pat-downs.

It is almost hard to believe that airport pat-downs could become any more uncomfortable than they already are, but according to the federal government, that is exactly what is about to happen.

Currently, air passengers who choose not to go through the body scanners, or who have set off an alarm while in the scanner, are subject to a more thorough inspection. Unless there are extenuating circumstances, these enhanced screenings usually entail a pat-down by a TSA agent who is of the same gender as the passenger being screened.

The screening agent usually pats down the traveler’s entire body from head to toe, using the back of their hands for the most delicate and sensitive areas: the same areas we diligently teach our children to zealously guard — unless, of course, a federal agent demands to cop a feel in the name of national security.

While even the most frequent travelers may be unaware of this, the TSA actually has five different types of security pat-downs, depending on what each unique situation calls for.

For men and women who put their long hair in a bun before entering the body scanner, for example, this is usually enough to set off the scanner’s alarm, as it cannot determine what the mass on top of a traveler’s head is. This usually means an agent just needs to touch the hair to make sure there is nothing sinister hidden. This is just one type of pat-down.

Of course, information on the different methods of security screenings would be extremely difficult for travelers to obtain since TSA’s procedural protocols are kept away from public eyes. In fact, Freedom of Information Act inquiries into the matter have been denied under the guise of protecting national security.

From Bad to Worse

Due to the secretive nature of the agency, representatives are refusing to give specifics as to what this new protocol will entail. They try to justify this by saying, “Knowing our specific procedures could aid those who wish to do travelers harm in evading our measures.”

While the TSA has described the new security guidelines as being more “comprehensive” than before, what this really means according to their own statements is that badged agents will soon be permitted to use the front of their hands when patting down passengers’ intimate areas.

In addition to something as insignificant as hair issues frequently setting off the scanner alarm, medical implants, back braces, and even an item left behind in your pocket, are usually enough to warrant a further screening. It is also not uncommon for the TSA’s Explosive Trace Detection equipment to falsely detect the presence of explosive residue, whether on a traveler’s clothing or on their luggage.

However, under the new regulations, these routine issues with the scanner alarms will now result in an enhanced pat-down where TSA employees will be permitted to touch passengers with the front of their hands.

According to its own officials, this change in protocol is “intended to reduce the cognitive burden on [employees] who previously had to choose from various pat-down procedures depending on the type of screening lane.”

Apparently, asking these already over-paid agents of the state to choose between five different screening processes is too great a mental strain to impose. Either the United States government doesn’t trust its own employees to do the job, or TSA employees are truly incapable of using their own discretion — neither is reassuring.

Sure, the difference between the back or front of a stranger’s hand caressing your private areas might not seem like a huge difference, but what this really represents is that the federal government finds it easier to simply strip the American people of more civil liberties rather than pursue any substantive innovation.

Nothing to See Here

While it is understandable that TSA would want to stay ahead of its policy changes from a public relations standpoint given the negative stigma already associated with its screenings, the agency’s latest move has not helped its cause.

In anticipation of its new, heightened pat-downs, TSA informed local law enforcement and warned that travelers may be concerned and some may even call local police to report “abnormal” frisking procedures.

TSA spokesman Bruce Anderson explained this decision in an email, saying:

“Passengers who have not previously experienced the now standardized pat-down screening may not realize that they did in fact receive the correct procedure, and may ask our partners, including law enforcement at the airport, about the procedure.”

Basically, whether or not travelers were aware of the five different screening methods (and most were not since the protocol is classified), TSA wants to ensure local law enforcement that any complaints of overly aggressive screenings should be disregarded, since this has always been going on and the people were just too dumb to know. After all, we have always been at war with Eastasia.

The federal government will never improve itself when its solution to every problem involves wasting more taxpayer dollars or restricting more civil liberties in order to obtain 100 percent compliance. This has never worked and it never will. The TSA stands as a monument to government incompetence, there to remind us that everything the government touches (and it is certainly fond of touching) turns to utter failure.

Brittany Hunter is an associate editor at the Foundation for Economic Education. Brittany studied political science at Utah Valley University with a minor in Constitutional studies. Originally published at fee.org.

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By Brittany Hunter

Contributing Columnist

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