Limits on the Effectiveness and Powers of the Transportation Safety Administration


Recent air travel has offered me the opportunity to observe not only the airlines but also my fellow travelers, who have turn out to be a cantankerous lot. Delays, cancellations, and poor airline responses to such disruptions have provided airline passengers much to complain about. Even when airlines get every little thing appropriate, we passengers nevertheless have one more target of our frustration: airport security.

We complain about parking restrictions, about the ever-growing time it takes to clear safety checkpoints, about seemingly fickle regulations, and about a host of other concerns. We complain to every other simply because we do not believe any person else will listen. Final week the President signed the “Enhancing America’s Security Act of 2007” which will implement remaining things from the 9/11 Commission. This law will also produce Privacy and Civil Liberties Officers in the Departments of Homeland Safety, Justice, Defense, and other agencies to respond to citizen complaints. These officers will, even so, have only an advisory function and only time will inform if they will take our complaints seriously.

Making these offices will not, nevertheless, address the root trigger of our complaints. Since 9/11 we have not had a national debate about what we truly want from airport safety and what price tag we are willing to spend. Immediately right after the tragedy, Americans clearly mentioned to the Congress and the President: “Protect us, no matter what you have to do.” There was small in the way of consideration of even the economic fees. The public demanded full and impenetrable protection and given that that time the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has endeavored to offer that level of security.

At the risk of stating a minor blasphemy, the TSA can not offer full and impenetrable protection. It is practically specific that terror attacks will kill more Americans. Sentiments such as, “Even a single life lost to terror attacks is one particular life as well numerous,” impose an unachievable expectation of efficiency. No human enterprise can guarantee hermetic safety, especially against an opponent that is willing to die in their attacks. We as a nation require to take into account how several deaths we are prepared to stomach and what expenses we will spend to achieve that level of relative safety.

Casting airport safety in such stark terms may possibly seem excessively cold and heartless. We as a society already make such relative value analyses. We decided to accept an approximate 15% improve in highway deaths when public stress forced the repeal of the national 55mph speed limit. We accept practically half a million deaths every year from tobacco to preserve personal overall health options. Lives are a part of the cost-advantage considerations in numerous policy debates.

The lack of a national debate on airport safety has itself hampered the effectiveness of safety measures, which has been an primarily reactive work. Threat identification is a result of successful or planned attacks. Policy formulation addresses these avenues of attack in retrospect. Like generals prepared to fight the last war, the TSA is continuously attempting to stop the last terror attack. We have effectively been relying on our adversaries to perform our threat assessment for us.

As the TSA formulates new policies, they impose them on the traveling public with no debate or evaluation. We are told the stakes are as well higher and the predicament is too time-crucial to permit for any reasoned consideration of any measure that the TSA devises. This crisis mentality is clearly an invitation for abuse. We have all read the stories of passengers detained over children’s sippy cups or similarly petty motives. Nevertheless we surrender ourselves to the (hopefully) benevolent authorities with tiny a lot more than the occasional grumble.

The time is long previous due for Americans to have a robust and national debate on airport security. What is the size of the threat? What are the possible avenues of attack? What are the risks posed by each avenue and what are the achievable approaches to interdict these avenues? Only with this info can we address the core query: What level of invasiveness and disruption are we willing to accept in the pursuit of security? With no addressing this last query, we give the TSA a blank check which, ironically, they will not be in a position to cash.