The January 2, 2010 edition of the Los Angeles Times contained an op-ed piece by David Steinberg (not the comedian, but a screenwriter from Santa Monica). The editorial beautifully capsulizes the irrationality of the Transportation Security Agency’s response to the recent attempted bombing of a Delta airliner bound for the United States from Amsterdam in which the TSA instituted regulations during an overnight session (when participants were apparently not fully awake). Those regulations, governing incoming flights to the U.S. from certain foreign airports, include requiring that passengers remain locked in their seats during the last hour of flight, and removal of all pillows and blankets to overhead bins during the same period.
In his editorial, Mr. Steinberg recounts his family’s odyssey home from a vacation in Aruba the day after the attempted bombing. Their adventure included: (1) the baggage handler, designated as “frisker,” becoming embarrassed as he patted down Mr. Steinberg’s four year old son; (2) the same “frisker” apparently recognizing the absurdity of his act, gratefully passing on the frisk of Mr. Steinberg’s two year old daughter; and (3) Mr. Steinberg’s two year old screaming “bloody murder” as the flight attendant yanked the pillow from under her head.
Honestly, when does enough arbitrary and capricious regulation become enough? First, the government mandates that passengers have to practically disrobe to get on a plane. Now the government wants to regulate when passengers can go to the bathroom once they get there. And for all that nonsense, the attempted bomber got on the plane to the United States, with explosives, not in his shoes, but in his underwear! Does that mean passengers will now have to take off their underwear and put it through the scanner?
The answer is now, and has always been, the same: (1) better information coordination between responsible agencies; (2) full body scanners that take off our underwear for us; and (3) criminal (not racial) profiling.
The last two are controversial. With respect to full body scanners, the American Civil Liberties Union and other civil liberties groups have taken the position that scanners are impermissibly intrusive. However, the level of their intrusion should be weighed against existing regulations that require removal of shoes, belts and coats in public, and ultimately allow pat downs of innocent citizens, not by trained law enforcement, but by “baggage handlers” as in Mr. Steinberg’s case.
The last, profiling, may be the most difficult of all, because it smacks of the “bad old days” when law enforcement impermissibly profiled on the basis of race, ethnicity, and sometimes gender. But that is not the kind of profiling being suggested here. Criminal profiling is different in that it brings together many factors in a person’s past and present, including criminal history, recent travel, employment and, if relevant, ethnicity. While we abhor profiling in its usual incarnation, it too must be weighed against the victimization of innocent travelers by ill considered, intrusive, and ultimately useless regulation.
In the end, Mr. Steinberg said it best - “How long are we going to tolerate increasingly preposterous and obviously useless rules in the name of security? . . . What if it takes six hours to get from the curb to the plane because next year’s lunatic tries to break the plane’s window with his bare skull and so the TSA decides every man, woman and child needs to be outfitted with padded headgear? There’s got to be a better way. A system that keeps us safe without impinging on the civil liberties we cherish. A system whereby suspicious individuals get scrutinized, and everyone else gets to sleep on their own pillows.”