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The price of air travel in the age of terrorism

Post by Kim Bradford on Nov. 16, 2010 at 9:11 am with 4 Comments »
November 16, 2010 9:11 am

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

Misguided privacy advocates are up in arms – again – over the Transportation Security Administration’s steps to tighten security at U.S. airports.

Their cause garnered a popular hero over the weekend when a California man refused both a full-body scan and the new alternative, an “enhanced” pat down.

Software engineer John Tyner was forced to leave the San Diego airport after telling security officers not to “touch my junk.”

Not surprisingly, Tyner’s mobile-phone footage of the confrontation quickly went viral, lending momentum to critics’ call for an “Opt Out Day” on Thanksgiving eve, the the busiest travel day of the year.

The boycott encourages travelers to refuse scans, forcing TSA agents to perform rigorous pat-down inspections that include checks of the inside of travelers’ thighs and rear-ends.

The new “groin checks” are more intrusive than the old pat downs. But so too are the full-body scanners replacing the old-school metal detectors that cannot detect many of the explosives in terrorists’ arsenals.

TSA has tried to answer privacy concerns about the scans – which produce images that are indeed revealing, but are viewed in a private area away from the gate and are neither stored nor transmitted.

If additional protections are needed, so be it – but to further delay the rollout of advanced security technologies would be irresponsible, especially in the wake of the recent attempted cargo bombings last month.

Those near-misses – foiled after intelligence officials scrambled to intercept the parcel bombs concealed in printer cartridges as they made their way from Yemen to Chicago – may not have targeted passenger planes. But they were critical reminders that al-Qaida remains fixated on American air travel.

Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Monday that her department ramped up deployment of full-body scanners in recent days after an “evaluation of the intelligence and risk indicated that we needed to move quickly into the nonmetal environment, to get (potentially dangerous) liquids and powders and gels off of aircraft.”

Technology alone won’t guarantee safe air travel; the U.S. must continue to make greater strides in using intelligence to foil terrorist plots before they ever get off the ground, or to the airport.

But technology is an important tool, and the U.S. would be foolish not to employ it.

Tactics like Opt Out Day – besides risking fellow travelers’ wrath and safety by creating even longer backups at unsecured security checkpoints – sell the lie that greater airport security doesn’t require some sacrifices.

Air travel is not a right. The ability to take to the skies safely should be.

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Leave a comment Comments → 4
  1. It has been known for months now that images are being stored. Now today I think it is 100 images have been posted on the internet.

    Another new video is a 3 yr old in her mothers arms yelling and kicking while a TSA agent tries to check the little girl.

    Another change is also out today where the TSA agents are checking between shorts/panties direct skin contact all around the waist. I wonder if the TSA agents are changing their gloves each time?

    I guess now instead of little kids playing doctor they can play TSA Agent!

  2. Why does a Physician’s Assistant hide behind an iron wall before pushing the X-ray button…But TSA or frequent fliers aren’t afforded that measure of safety continuity? Like to see the “Dangers of Prolonged Use Study” on that one…

  3. billybushey says:

    The same people screaming about the searches will be the one’s screaming when a killer gets by because we stopped this and blows a plane up. Those who object to this can take the train, the bus, a boat or better yet, get over their elevated opinion of their own attractiveness.

  4. I’m open to both sides on this issue, and I appreciate your view, Kim. But I’m a father of a 3-year-old girl, and what brings me up short is when I think about letting my daughter walk through the scanner or be patted down. Granted, I don’t want her to be destroyed by an air bomb either, but it’s not a simple issue. Where is the line at which we’ve given up too many rights in exchange for the promise of security?

    At the very least, I’d like to see the TSA expand the option for people to get background screening and “pre-approval” in order to skip these kinds of searches.

    And some of the security measures related to these scanners are simply absurd, like requiring pilots to be scanned. A pilot has no need to bring a bomb on a plane. All he has to do is push the stick forward…

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