Guest Blog: Airport Protests Are the Wrong Approach
Business Travel Coalition (BTC) today criticized the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and groups that are advocating an airport security screening opt-out day over the Thanksgiving holiday period. Airports have been high-value targets of terrorists for some 35 years. On December 29, 1975, LaGuardia Airport was teeming with holiday travelers when a bomb exploded killing 11 and injuring 75. Today, security best practice around the world includes moving passengers from the non-secure to the secure sides of airports as expeditiously as possible. To promote actions that impede holiday travelers at non-secure airport checkpoints is irresponsible; to advertise it in advance to terrorists is reckless.
The involved groups have no doubt done a highly effective job in raising national awareness of intrusive and sometimes wasteful TSA security processes. However, for the security and safety of the public, BTC urges these groups to now cancel planned opt-out protests, consolidate campaign success and redirect efforts to the highest levels in Washington. BTC also urges airline, airport and travel industry groups to strongly advise against these potentially dangerous protests and to join public-policy initiatives calling for a complete review of TSA.
In 2004 BTC testimony before the U.S. Congress regarding TSA's proposed Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II), BTC pointed out that TSA's penchant for secrecy and disregard of citizens' privacy and due process concerns did not bode well for long-term public support if so early in its existence it was scornful of public opinion. CAPPS II became the Poster Child for this insular indifference at an agency so arrogant at times that it often refused to provide useful information to reporters without FOIA requests.
The deployment of full-body scanners without a formal public comment process and sufficient medical and scientific vetting is one of the worst TSA abuses of authority since its creation. The overly aggressive pat-downs represent citizen mistreatment in the extreme, especially if used as "punishment" when passengers opt out of full-body scans. There are millions of Americans and foreign tourists – children and adults – who have been traumatized by sexual abuse during their lives. That they now have to relive their suffering in our airports is shameful.
Passengers have complied with layer upon layer of new and changing airport security measures and protocols since 2001. However, an inflection point would appear to have been reached with the body scanner and offensive pat down issues where increasingly forceful push back from the traveling public should lead to an overall review of U.S. aviation system security. The current security screening process, and the inherent opportunity for abuse, is so over-the-top as to even invite mockery from former President George W. Bush on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.
While layers of security represent a global best practice, a risk is that all manner of new security measures can be justified and independent scrutiny circumvented simply by hiding behind the "security layers" mantra. Importantly, treating all passengers transiting the aviation system as if they are equal threats to national security represents worst practice because it is ineffective, costly and distractive of better practices. The return on every dollar of investment in intelligence gathering, analysis and sharing within and across borders is orders-of-magnitude greater than dollars spent screening passengers at airports. The intent of Congress should be acted upon by TSA with respect to a true risk and security-based trusted traveler program that streamlines airport security and frees up funds to find the terrorists where they sleep, and before they arrive at our airports.
New TSA Administrator John Pistole inherited a troubled and inwardly focused agency. His straightaway-opportunity is to examine the bigger picture that includes a public that has lost confidence in his agency and that no longer trusts it. Job one should be to determine why; step one should be to reach out to the groups organizing the opt-out protests, listen to their concerns and assure them of a strategic, comprehensive and transparent review of TSA.