Tuesday, November 23, 2010

How the TSA kills americans

There's a big to-do this week with a big passenger backlash to the perceived excesses of airport passenger screenings. There are those with luddite attitudes towards the new backscatter X-ray scanners, but it's fairly easy to see how the machines themselves are safe. But facing the Hobson's choice of either a virtual strip-search or a pat-down not dissimilar to what happens when suspected criminals are arrested just because you choose to use an airplane to exercise your constitutional right to free (as in speech) travel is unreasonable.

But we can go a step further. There is a web campaign calling on travelers to "opt-out" of the X-ray, forcing the TSA to give all of those passengers pat-downs instead, in an act of civil disobedience. And the TSA has vowed not to give in. And so, the prospect looms of air travel becoming, at least for a day, even more unpleasant.

The more air travel becomes more expensive, unpleasant or otherwise untenable, the more people forego it for their cars. And while individually they don't make headlines, people die on a daily basis on America's roads, to the tune of more than 30,000 per year (as of 2009). That compares to a fatality rate for domestic commercial aviation of approximately 100 per year. So the TSA is doing everything they can to funnel people to a transportation system that has a fatality rate 300 times higher. They should be proud of themselves.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 were only possible because of the "rules of engagement" that were in place at the time. Those rules said that passengers and flight crew should cooperate with hijackers and let them go where they wanted and let the police handle matters when the plane lands (as it inevitably must). When Al Queda demonstrated that aircraft could be turned into weapons, those rules changed. In actual fact, Al Queda's plan stopped working even before it was complete - the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania did so because the passengers revolted when they figured out what the plan was. No terrorist since then has been able to take control of or destroy an aircraft while on board because of the vigilance of the passengers.

Really, the only thing the TSA needs to do, given this state of affairs, to make air travel sufficiently safe, is to insure that the cockpits remain secure during flight, that each piece of luggage in the cargo hold belongs to a passenger, and perform the level of passenger screening that was commonplace for the 3 decades between DB Cooper and 9/11.

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