Sunday, November 24, 2013

Scanning for the TSA's Ineffectiveness and Why We Need to Privatize Airport Security

Nothing says "fun at the airport" like a good-old fashioned, unsubstantiated pat-down from a TSA employee. Sarcasm about my recent travels set aside, I have to wonder if the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does a good job in providing airport security, thereby preventing another 9/11, or if its unproductive "grope or scan" policy is a waste of taxpayer dollars and a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

One of the complaints lodged against the TSA is due to their mismanagement and abuse of power. I'm sure we can all find TSA abuse stories, like the 400 TSA employees fired for theft, the pat-down of a six-year old, having a the TSA use pliers to remove the nipple ring of a passenger, or cases of inappropriate groping. As illustrative as anecdotal evidence can be, it suffers from selection bias and does not reflect overall trends. That is why studies are more effective, like the 2013 GAO report showing a 26% increase in misconduct from 2010 to 2012. The graph below shows a breakdown of abuses (p. 11), including the 949 cases of inappropriate comments or conduct:

In addition to TSA abuse, one has to question the effectiveness of the TSA's methods (See recent Cato Institute study).  One of the methods used by the TSA is a program known as SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Technique), which is supposed to prevent terrorist attacks by observing behaviors. This is another example of the government throwing lots of money at a project without researching the effects. Accordingly to a GAO report published this month, the SPOT program has been a waste of $1 billion in taxpayer dollars because the program doesn't work. Then there is the matter of the full-body scanners. For one, there are safety issues with the radiation from the scanners. Also, there is the matter of whether they work (GAO, 2010) and if it's possible to bypass the machines. Pat-downs are security theatre. You would think that with an annual budget of over $7 billion, they could at least foil a terrorist plot, but they have not.

It would be better to focus on intelligence and investigation than taking a "reactive approach to security" (House, p. 3) and trying to prevent a method of attack that has hundreds of tactics and hundreds of potential targets. The House of Representatives recommends making a leaner TSA, but I would get rid of the agency and privatize airport security. Airport screening needs to be separate from regulation of airport security if there is to be any notable success. Relegating security hiring to the airports would allow for market competition in airport security, which is preferable to a government monopoly that is very unresponsive to adapting to change. Through Catapult Consultants, the GAO found that private security performs just as well, if not better than the TSA. We should follow Canada and Europe's example and privatize airport security. It would certainly be an improvement to save taxpayer dollars and increase the quality of airport security.

5-17-2016 Addendum: The Left-leaning Vox put out a piece that shows not only that the TSA is ineffective, but they put lives at risk. 

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I agree, but it is also important to note that aside from simply changing from public to private security we also need to clearly distinguish between what is public and what is private for the passengers as well. The TSA is part of a broader picture that includes other agencies such as the NSA where the government is increasingly violating that law concerning its citizens right to privacy. Until proper legal boundaries are once again established for these suspicionless searches, switching from one group of people to another really won't fix anything.