Adrian Moore is vice president of research at the
reason Foundation (
www.reason.org), a nonprofit organization
promoting choice, competition and a dynamic market economy.
FEBRUARY DEBATE RESULTS:
Is civility dead?
OUR AVIATION SECURITY system is not working well. Despite the
tens of billions of dollars spent on security since 9/11, large gaps remain.
A key part of fixing the system is getting the right detection equip-
ment in place. Full-body millimeter-wave and backscatter X-ray scanners
can spot objects hidden under clothing and even hidden in body cavities,
making it much harder for terrorists to smuggle bombs or bomb-making
materials onto planes.
Unfortunately, some of the full-body scanners used require each passenger to stand still
for 20 to 30 seconds, which simply isn’t practical for our massive aviation system or busiest
airports. However, newer machines can scan much more quickly and may be viable for widespread use in the U.S. in the near future.
Better technology is only part of the equation, however. Our system needs to focus its
resources on real threats and stop pretending that every passenger is equally likely to be a
threat and therefore needs the same degree of scrutiny.
Much more active and accurate management of no-fly lists for known threats is needed, as
are watch lists for people about whom the counterterrorism system has suspicions.
To best utilize our resources, airport screening should divide travelers into three risk groups:
those on watch lists, those known to be safe and the rest. Anyone on a watch list should get
maximum screening, including full-body scans and detailed questioning by security screeners.
In a program already begun by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (
xp/cgov/travel/trusted_traveler), “trusted travelers”—having already passed an FBI background
check—would go through minimal security at the airport.
The majority of travelers would go through a midlevel screening process in which most
would pass through metal detectors much as they do in the current system. Those with suspicious items or behavior would be routed into the heavy-screening line for full-body scans.
By shifting to a risk-based security system that utilizes full-body scans, we can dramati-
cally increase the effectiveness of the screening process without adding massive expense and
longer lines for all of the innocent travelers. C
Percentage reflects votes
received by February 12, 2010.
JANUARY DEBATE RESULTS:
Should tanning salons
be off-limits for teenagers?
YES: 24% NO: 76%
Percentage reflects votes received by
january 31, 2010. results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
from an expert in the field:
Marc Rotenberg is president of ePIc, the electronic Privacy
Information center, in Washington, D.c. (
MAKING SURE THAT dangerous people are kept off planes should
be the number-one job of the Transportation Security Administration
(TSA), the government’s airport security agency. But instead of fixing the
intelligence failure that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a
plane headed for the United States, the focus has shifted to a proposal to
install costly devices that will visually strip air travelers down to their
birthday suits. It’s a bad idea for many reasons.
First, digital strip-search technology is uniquely intrusive. Unlike traditional screening
systems that detect metal objects and explosive powders, body scanners reveal the details of
the human body. TSA operators can zoom in on anything that is unusual or looks out of place.
Most air travelers think scanners are less intrusive than pat downs, but few have actually seen
what the TSA sees. It would change opinions quickly.
Second, these devices are ineffective. Neither backscatter X-ray nor millimeter-wave
images are designed to detect the explosive powder used by the Christmas bomber. At best,
they might find the container in which powder is concealed. But even that can be hidden in a
body cavity. This is not rocket science. In fact, no one has said with any certainty that a body
scanner could have prevented the December 25 attack.
Third, the devices are expensive, about $200,000 for each of the 2,100 airport security
lanes in the United States. Many airports will require extensive reconfiguration, and travel time
for passengers will increase if all travelers are required to undergo the “full monty” body scan.
Fourth, the TSA has not told the truth about the strip-search machines. They said that
they do not store, record or transmit images. But after our organization, the Electronic Privacy
Information Center, pursued a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and obtained the specifications, we found these devices were equipped with hard disk drives, USB ports and Ethernet
connectivity. They also have a “super user” control to disable filters and to export raw images.
In terms of privacy safeguards, that’s a failing grade.
Finally, the TSA has not explained why all air travelers should be subject to body scanners
or intrusive pat downs, instead of saving these techniques for secondary screening when
circumstances warrant. C
Opinions expressed are those of the individuals
or organizations represented and are presented
to foster discussion. costco and The;Costco
Connection take no position on any Debate topic.