America is on line at the airport. America has its shoes off, is carrying a rubberized bin, is going through a magnetometer. America is worried there is fungus on the floor after a million stockinged feet have walked on it. But America knows not to ask. America is guilty until proven innocent and no one wants to draw undue attention.
America left its ticket and passport in the jacket in the bin in the X-ray machine, and is admonished. America is embarrassed to have put one one-ounce moisturizer too many in the see-through bag. America is irritated that the TSA agent removed its mascara, opened it, put it to her nose, and smelled it. Why don’t you put it up your nose and see if it explodes? America thinks, but does not say.
And, as always America thinks: Why do we do this when you know I am not a terrorist, and you know I know you know I am not a terrorist? Why this costly and embarrassing kabuki when we both know the facts, and would even admit privately that all this harassment is only the government’s way of showing that it is “fair,” of demonstrating that it will equally humiliate anyone in order to show its high-mindedness and sense of justice? Our politicians congratulate themselves on this as we stand in line.
All the frisking, beeping, and patting down is demoralizing to our society. It breeds resentment, encourages a sense that the normal are not in control, that politics has lessened everything, including human dignity.
This is an excerpt from the prologue to Peggy Noonan’s new book, Patriotic Grace: What It Is and Why We Need It Now, and accurately captures the mood of the traveling public and its disdain for the experience it undergoes at airport security checkpoints. In a rush to lull the public into a sense that everything is ok and to be politically acceptable, we have removed common sense from the airport experience.
Instead of tinkering around the edges with the process that was hastily put in place after 9/11, the time has come for a new perspective into how we risk mitigate at the airport. The key component that would make such a transition possible is technology – whether it is technology that allows you to leave your shoes on, leave your liquids (no matter what size) in your carry-on bag or prevent the dreaded pat-down from the screener.
While continued training of the screener workforce is essential, it alone is not enough to move away from the system of today. Technology is the key. Unfortunately, technology development is an area in which TSA and DHS do not excel. While I could cite TSA’s and DHS’s woefully under funded technology budgets, I would first like to start with leadership.
The federal government should not be in the role of funding every possible or likely technology advancement – that should be left for the ingenuity of the private sector. The federal government should provide leadership. Leadership as to the direction and focus of the needs, so that the private sector is willing (over multiple years) to invest internal R&D funds into solutions. Leadership is saying – “the latest and the greatest emerging technology … tends to be most expensive and least reliable.” But one must be careful. Words do matter. While the “expensive” and “less reliable” part may be correct, such statements will ultimately have a negative influence upon the attitude and willingness of the private sector.
TSA must get out of the rut of increasing budget dollars for screener salaries and benefits. If it doesn’t, the agency may forever suffer from insufficient resources. Why not reduce these screener costs by injecting a healthy dose of “freedom of choice” into the security process. Here is what I purpose: If an individual American is willing to subject themselves (repeatedly) to a thorough background check, similar to a low level security clearance, then we should have a lane for them that utilizes less screener resources and allows the traveler to speed through the checkpoint security process. Likewise, if Americans are willing to be screened by advanced technology, such as millimeter wave or backscatter, why not allow those travelers to be excused from the full regime of requirements.
Where is it written that every American must be subjected to precisely the same security ritual every time they travel? Technology can offer a better experience and reduce the burden on taxpayers. Let us have some choice which technology we want to be screened by and how much private and personal information we will share with the government.