• United States



by Senior Editor

TSA and the freedom thing: We’re the problem

Nov 23, 20105 mins
Critical InfrastructureIT LeadershipPhysical Security

The nation is in an uproar over full body scanning and pat downs in the airport TSA security lines. Is it a necessary security measure or a violation of our freedom and privacy? Bill Brenner weighs in.

I’ve held back from opining about this controversy over the TSA doing full-body scanning and pat downs for a variety of reasons. For one thing, I think it’s becoming an easy applause line for people to rip the agency. Of course no one wants to be felt up in the security line. We’re entitled to our modesty. But like most things in the security world, this isn’t a black-and-white problem.

And since I’m a frequent traveler, I figure I have a right to say my peace.

First, I should mention that I’ve never had a problem in the TSA line. I know this is mostly because of luck. I tend to travel early in the morning, before the crowds arrive. I also travel light. I have seen others randomly picked for more intense screening, and I’ve seen their anger over it. I don’t blame them, because I know what it’s like to have security officials treat me like a thug.

A lot of very intelligent security practitioners have been weighing in on the tougher TSA measures. Here are two different views from people I respect:

Bob Connors, a crisis management expert who lives down the street from me, has been directing followers of his Twitter and Facebook pages to a video on how best to prepare for the TSA screening. Of the body scans and pat downs, he says, “For those who don’t want this level of screening, I think we should have a separate terminal, screening and airplanes for them. For me, I have no problem with it, especially if it will screen out someone with Fruit of the Bomb underwear who is trying to blow up my plane.”

Adam Shostack, one of the security industry’s more eloquent practitioners, had this to say in his Emergent Chaos blog: “It’s true. TSA employees are just doing their job, which is to secure transportation systems. The trouble is, their job is impossible. We all know that it’s possible to smuggle things past the nudatrons and the frisking. Unfortunately, TSA’s job is defined narrowly as a secure transportation system, and every failure leads to them getting blamed. All their hard work is ignored. And so they impose measures that a great many American citizens find unacceptable. They’re going to keep doing this because their mission and jobs are defined wrong. It’s not the fault of TSA, it’s the fault of Congress, who defined that mission.”

All valid points.

As far as I’m concerned, we are the root of the problem. In the days immediately after 9-11, we were all terrified and were willing to let the government do whatever it felt was necessary to keep another attack like this from happening again. We would have walked naked through the TSA line if told to at that point. Criticize me for exaggerating if you will. The point is that in our paranoia and fear we let things like the Patriot Act happen. We were fine with the warrantless wiretaps and the water boarding. Then a few years passed without a terrorist attack on American soil, and all those things became intolerable again to a majority of Americans.

It’s funny how fickle we can be when it comes to our privacy. Give us something to be afraid of and we’re perfectly willing to give it up. When we’re feeling more comfortable and complacent, we want the government to stay out of our business. We all want privacy until it becomes inconvenient. We see this in the land of social networking all the time. A lot of people toss aside their privacy every day in the race to get some attention. When it comes to privacy, we don’t always know what we want. That’s not how it is with everyone, but it is the case for a growing part of the population.

Trust me: We WILL have another attack someday, and when we do the public will be out for blood, including the blood of security officials who failed to stop the one terrorist that got through.

No matter what these agencies do, they’re going to be vilified. It’s a lose-lose situation.

Another of my security friends posted a picture online this morning of a nun being patted down by a TSA officer wearing the head garb of a terrorist and commented that the terrorists have won. I think she has a point.

To the terrorists, keeping us in a constant state of fear is as good as killing us. When we act out of fear, we turn our backs on the way of life they hate and so badly want to destroy.

We’re giving them exactly what they want.

It’s not the TSA’s fault. It’s our fault.

We Americans have made it clear that we never want another 9-11 to happen again. Public opinion has been clear for the last decade that the government better do whatever it can to keep us safe. What we see as an outrage is what we asked for in the first place.

I don’t know what the right balance is. I’ll never claim to know. All I know is that I’ve danced with fear before, and it gets old.

There was a time after 9-11 when I refused to board a plane. When I look back on that I feel stupid and even embarrassed. For a time, the terrorists had beaten me.

I’m done living with that kind of fear. I will continue to travel, because it’s my job and I love it. I won’t let fear keep me away.

I refuse to let the terrorists discourage me again.

As for the TSA procedures: I have nothing to hide and, therefore, nothing to fear.