Years ago, the biggest question you’d get while flying was “Coffee or tea?” Now it’s “Naked body scan or aggressive pat-down?”
Behind that dilemma is the real choice. It’s the one too many Americans have been unwilling to face: Should we “profile” – i.e., concentrate our security efforts on the individuals more likely to pose a threat? Or continue with the absurd fiction that every man, woman and child stands an equal chance of being a terrorist?
There’s always a tension between the need for freedom and the desire for security, but the stepped-up security measures have triggered outrage. Obviously, the policy pendulum has swung too far, encroaching too much on personal freedoms.
Americans have reached their limit. It’s about time. The system we have under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is unreasonably intrusive and completely unacceptable.
We’re learning (the hard way) what numerous European governments learned years ago as they worked to reduce the threat of terrorism. When more attacks occurred in the 1970s, they reacted as we have, with government employees handling security through a government agency. When that didn’t work, they changed tactics. Countries such as Belgium, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom turned to private companies to handle security – with government providing strict oversight.
Several other countries followed suit in the 1980s and ’90s. The result of this public-private model? Better security and greater public satisfaction.
These countries now have a “risk-based” approach to security. That’s what Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says we have through TSA. It’s not.
The success of the European private security approach has attracted the attention of Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), a member of Congress. He has written many of the biggest U.S. airports, urging them to stop using the TSA and contract instead with private companies for security.
Can’t be done, you say? At least one major airport, San Francisco International, is already operating under such a system. The fact is, we are not stuck with the TSA model. We can and should do better.
We need to start shifting to a public-private model. That means, first of all, ditching the body scanners. It’s not a question, as some have suggested, of whether the scans are anonymous. Either way, they show that we are not screening properly for those who pose the greatest threat to airline security.
How do we do this? Sort passengers into three groups:
1) “Low-risk” ones we know plenty about – those with federal security clearance, for example, or a biometric ID card.
2) “Ordinary” ones – mostly occasional flyers and leisure travelers.