• United States



Airports Can Legally Opt-Out, Kick TSA Program to the Curb, and Instead Hire Private Security Screeners

Nov 17, 20105 mins
Data and Information SecurityMicrosoftSecurity

Airports are not required to have TSA screeners checking passengers at security checkpoints and can instead opt to hire private security screeners.

Did you know that U.S. airports could choose to kick the TSA program to the curb? According to the 2001 law that created the TSA, after two years of using TSA screeners to check passengers at security checkpoints, airports have a right to opt-out of the TSA program and instead hire private screeners.

According to Washington Examiner, Rep. John Mica wrote to heads of more than 150 U.S. airports, reminding airports that they have a choice and suggesting that they opt-out of TSA screening. Mica will soon be chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. He wrote, “When the TSA was established, it was never envisioned that it would become a huge, unwieldy bureaucracy which was soon to grow to 67,000 employees. As TSA has grown larger, more impersonal, and administratively top-heavy, I believe it is important that airports across the country consider utilizing the opt-out provision’ and use private screening.”

In past years, some airports have cited liability concerns if they hire private screeners and a terrorist would get through.

Mica said the TSA is counting more on humiliating passengers with the grossly invasive “naked scanner” machines and groping searches than practicing proven airport security. Yet TSA’s Blogger Bob insists, “There is no fondling, squeezing, groping, or any sort of sexual assault taking place at airports.”

Back in 2003, during a hearing, Mica said of TSA airport screening, “We’ve created a multi-billion-dollar mirage.” That seems true. Even the government seems unable to keep some facts straight. TSA previously claimed “scanned images cannot be stored or recorded.” But then the feds admitted to storing body scans, and Gizmodo published the leaked images of one hundred naked citizens. Although the University of California biochemistry faculty members wrote that the x-ray “dose to the skin may be dangerously high,” the White House stated that full body image scanners are safe and have been “studied extensively for many years” by FDA, DHS, and the Department of Health and Human Services.

If the TSA program is meant to make us feel safe, security theater with high-tech scanners, buzzers and gadgets, alarms and blinking lights, then it seems like an utter fail. Goonish intimidation tactics of being groped and “sexually assaulted” do not stir up feelings of safety. A TSA agent admitted the enhanced pat downs were supposed to make everyone walk into the body scanners. That happened after TSA met “Resistance.” The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg asked a TSA screener, “In other words, people, when faced with a choice, will inevitably choose the Dick-Measuring Device over molestation?” The TSA screener replied, “That’s what we’re hoping for. We’re trying to get everyone into the machine.”

To appease pilots who have protested continued exposure to backscatter machines and virtual strip searches or invasive pat downs, TSA administrator John Pistole said the agency will soon announce “some new policies.” However, CNET was told by a TSA source that the changes won’t affect the public. “A revised screening process for only pilots could involve a biometric ID card that would allow security to be bypassed at high-traffic airports.”

TSA’s Pistole told The New York Times, he was “specifically worried about the Internet-based campaign encouraging fliers who opposed the new machines to observe a ‘national opt-out day‘ on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving.” An estimated 24 million travelers will fly over the Thanksgiving holidays.

In a way, I feel a bit sorry for TSA agents who conduct the rub-downs . . . but then I saw a 3-year screaming, “Quit touching me” during a pat down and Tyner’s controversial video evidence. Then it really seems just way, way out of control as the public was never supposed to see those. Mostly, I feel sorry for Americans who have to endure virtual strip searches or being felt up. Some travelers report no issues at airports. Some critics say if you don’t like it, then don’t fly. That argument is about as ridiculous as Eric Schmidt’s, “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place” statement. Flying is the only option sometimes. I disagree with the TSA supervisor who told Tyner that he gave up a lot of rights by buying a ticket. This is still the USA.

Not everyone, but millions of people are not pleased with the government screening. The TSA wants to try to fine John Tyner after they let him leave the screening area and then claimed TSA agents “didn’t know the rules.” After all that has happened with TSA and the loud public outcry for everything from privacy invasion to abusing civil liberties, perhaps it is time for airports to kick the TSA program to the curb and hire private screeners? Will private screeners do a better job than the TSA? Who knows, but it seems unlikely they could muck it up any worse. Airplanes will not be 100% secure even if travelers were stripped naked and cavity searched.

So what’s it going to be, America? TSA RIP? Should U.S. airports hire private screeners or should the TSA buy the rights to the song “Pants on the Ground” and blare it from speakers at security checks so passengers can make TSA’s job that much easier?

Other nations are laughing at us and our predicament. The video below was created by Taiwanese animators to represent the TSA and Tyner’s “touch my junk” incident. Why not try private airport screeners? Would we surrender our freedom any more, or have our privacy invaded any worse, if we stopped trusting TSA to protect us from the bad guys? Some people claim the terrorists have won and that the TSA are the bad guys.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.