Wednesday, November 24, 2010


TSA searches

There's been a lot of talk lately about the new TSA guidelines for inspecting air travelers.  (Briefly, submit to an invasive X-ray scan -- which has unknown risks for radiation exposure, and is known to produce de facto nude pictures, which the TSA have tried to keep off the Internet with limited success -- or submit to an invasive pat-down, which is apparently thorough enough to warrant an instant sexual harrassment lawsuit anywhere else.)

Since I'm an Israeli citizen, you already know where I stand on such nonsense.  Israel has a proven system, which has worked extremely well for the past forty years, in which the security risks are the only ones getting the pat-downs -- with human beings deciding who the security risks are, and on the whole doing an excellent job.

It's true that the Israeli system -- described in detail here -- is difficult to scale, and is in fact well-suited to the thousands of travelers Israel might see on a given day, not the tens of millions who pass through American airports every day.  Personally, I think that this is a excellent opportunity for hi-tech solutions.  (We already have, so I hear, computers smart enough to recognize a particular human face a high percentage of the time.  So we ought to be able to scan crowds at airports, looking for the faces of known terrorists, and alerting a security officer if one is spotted.  Could we enhance such systems, so as to identify suspicious behavior?  I think we could.)

I hasten to add that such electronic systems should never do more than alert a human being, who would then go to double-check.  But such solutions, so far as I know, have not been attempted yet.  I think it's worth a try.

Here's another thought or two, inspired by Glenn Reynolds' recent Popular Mechanics article on the subject.  The current American system looks for objects that could be used as weapons; the Israeli system looks for people who might employ such weapons.

It seems obvious to me that the latter approach is the correct one, since people are the bottleneck... and since just about anything can be used as a weapon.  (I wouldn't like to think about what new procedures the TSA would put into place, after a skyjacking carried out entirely by unarmed black-belt terrorists.  Would we then have to be handcuffed to our seats for the entire flight?)

And let me observe this -- keeping an eye on the potential weapon, and not on the person wielding it, is the philosophy of gun control.  This is the school of thought that says people are good, but weapons are bad, and that we must remove all weapons in order to deal with violent crime.

This philosophy sounds good, but has never been borne out by experience.  Communities with heavy gun control tend to have higher rates of violent crime, because armed criminals know that their victims will be unarmed.

So now we are trying this same failed philosophy on our airliners, by disarming the law-abiding passengers, so that in the process we'll also (hopefully) disarm any would-be terrorist hidden among them.  We're also inconveniencing the law-abiding in a major way by depriving them of anything that has been used before as a weapon... thereby basing our security on the notion that the terrorists won't come up with anything new.

And, in the process, we're seeing what gun advocates have always predicted we'd see.  It's impossible to remove all guns from society, they say... but even if you could, you'd then see the strong prey on the weak with knives, with chains, with iron bars, and anything else they can get their hands on.  No matter how many of these things you outlaw, the outlaws will find something they can use to overpower the innocent.

So we disallowed sharp objects on planes... and got a shoe bomber.  Then we got alerts about explosive liquids, so all liquids were disallowed.  Then we got Captain Underwear, causing the authorities to decide that they must now check our underwear.  Where does this process stop?...  It doesn't.

In what way does this make sense?


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