America is once again going through one of the periodic dust-ups between security and privacy that mark our society as a truly free one. In its present incarnation, it is about the enhanced screening methods being used by the TSA. This includes full body scans and much more intrusive pat-downs (palms forward) if a passenger declines the scanner or sets off an alarm. This debate is more of a symptom than a standalone issue. It is not, however, trivial or easily dismissed, regardless of on which side one sits.
It was barely a year ago when the now infamous “Underwear Bomber” tried to ignite his chemically enhanced boxers to bring down an airliner over Detroit. There was a huge hue and cry that our airport security techniques were insufficient (despite being the most comprehensive in the world) and clearly had to be improved. At that time, nearly all the pundits and the most vocal citizens railed that TSA, DHS, and the President himself had let the American people down, and we had to do better. A lot of people seem to have forgotten that discussion.
Now that TSA has done what “The People” called for, they are again vilified. Come on, folks, let’s get real.
I know the people howling now are not the same as those who complained before (at least not the citizens – the pundits are far less concerned with intellectual consistency), but I am guessing that most of today’s wailing is coming from folks who last December wondered in their hearts, “why we were not doing more.”
Unfortunately, I can see the administration already sliding away from their position, bowing to the public affairs pressure. In short order, TSA will probably announce new procedures that frankly will make it harder for its gate personnel to find and stop the bad guys. The nation is very fortunate to have an enormously talented and experienced law enforcement professional like John Pistole heading up that most public facing of our security organizations. Pistole is not a bureaucrat; he is a cop and a good one. He understands that providing security is never going to be popular with everyone, and that he must give his people the means to do their jobs if he is going to hold them accountable. He deserves our support and understanding.
I get the security versus privacy conundrum. It is a core issue in my field of cybersecurity. As I have said before in this space, it can also be a false dichotomy. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are very tough to balance. It requires professionalism, diligence and dialog. It also requires our national leadership (read: the President) to weigh in and to support his people.
I fully expect TSA to alter the methods they will use, but let’s hope we don’t reflexively jump back so far that we demoralize TSA (already one of our favorite whipping boys) and embolden our enemies.