As criticism grows of the government's new full-body imaging scanners and the alternative "enhanced" pat-downs, some airports are considering ditching TSA agents altogether. This month, Republican Rep. John Mica of Florida wrote letters to 100 of the nation's busiest airports asking that they request private security guards instead. [CBS]
This argument is on an intellectual par with "I hate socialized medicine, hands off my Medicare!"
If TSA screeners were replaced by private contractors, they would still have to follow the same rules, using the same machines, and the same search protocols. The only difference would be that John Mica's corporate campaign contributors would stand to make a lot of money.
Magical market forces will not give us better screening service. The contracts will be handed out to cronies behind closed doors. Passengers are literally a captive audience. If your flight is about to take off, you can't just walk out and find an airport with nicer baggage screeners.
The question then becomes, who would you rather have up in your junk: The TSA or Blackwater?
This is a false dichotomy, of course. The nude body scans and front-handed genital pat-downs violate our privacy without enhancing security. The policy needs to change. At least the policy-makers work for us. For-profit security firms work for their shareholders first and the public second. That's just how corporations are. Do you really want your safety to be secondary to someone else's profits?
No matter who administers it, the whole body scanner project is all one big human experiment. The TSA can't even prove that the scanners are more effective than existing technology. Adam Serwer writes in TAPPED: "The current scanners were being evaluated at a time when, according to a 2009 Government Accountability Office report, the TSA had neither implemented a cost-benefit analysis of its passenger-screening technologies nor established "performance measures that assess how deployed technologies have reduced or mitigated risk." As of today, the GAO says the TSA still hasn't done either, despite having deployed the scanners nationwide."
So, we're being asked to submit to virtual strip searches on spec. Nor is there any particular reason to think that the new front-handed pat-downs will discover significantly more contraband than the old frisks, which I recall as being very thorough. If you were hiding something in your pants, it would be pretty obvious, even without the genital probing. It's not like the underpants bomber could have been stopped at the gate if only someone had specifically checked the gap between his scrotum and his inner thigh.
Not only is privatization not a solution to the scanner problem, it isn't even logically related. Calling for privatization because of bad TSA rules is a total non sequitur because private contractors would have to follow the same rules!
Your civil liberties are being violated and Rep. Mica is exploiting your outrage to further his own radical privatization agenda and line his campaign contributors' pockets. Don't fall for it.
[Photo credit: Lindsay Beyerstein.]