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.