Abolish the TSA

The TSA is awful. Let’s get rid of it.

Seventeen years ago, the nation came to a standstill as the most horrific terrorist attack on the United States unfolded. In its aftermath was an expansive effort by the Bush administration to overhaul our securities, counter-terrorism and foreign policy objectives to prevent another attack like it. Unfortunately, a majority of those efforts were constitutionally dubious, overreaching laws limiting our freedom for the sake of security.

Among them, and perhaps most regrettably, was the creation of the Transportation and Security Administration, or the TSA. Nearly two decades later, it has proven to be an abject failure. It’s time we put it on the chopping block.

For starters, the TSA is horrible at its job. Look to a recent ABC report revealing that a set of undercover tests by the Department of Homeland Security produced a failure rate of 80 percent. Granted, the inspectors knew the ins-and-outs of TSA procedures and were more able to circumvent them than the average passenger.

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist or DHS official to figure out how to get prohibited items through the TSA’s screening devices. Everyone’s heard of someone who snuck something in by hiding it in t-shirts and socks, or successfully smuggling in a pocket knife by simply forgetting to take it out before walking through the body scanner.

This is why, as far as we can tell, they’ve failed to stop a single terrorist attack since 2001. Why haven’t we experienced another terrorist attack like 9/11, you ask? The answer: literally everything but the TSA. It was vigilant passengers who stopped the shoe and underwear bombers. Reinforced cockpit doors. Armed air marshals that deter terrorists from trying to get on the plane in the first place. Intelligence operations that track suspected terrorists before they even enter an airport.

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Most people don’t know any of this. This means that at best, the perception that TSA procedures are protecting us from danger gives passengers a peace of mind. In other words, the TSA is nothing but an act of security theater.

And for what? The procedures we’re forced to endure for other people’s sense of safety require violations of our privacy, waste our time and degrade our sense of dignity. Cranky TSA officials tear apart our strategically-packed suitcases to pretend to look at items that are supposedly a cause for suspicion. Passengers who are disproportionately women of color receive invasive pat downs from employees who are disproportionately men, a practice that has resulted in successful lawsuits by the ACLU. Black and Latino passengers are routinely pulled out of line at “random” for extended security procedures, a practice that in any other industry would amount to racial profiling.

Because the TSA is a government program, employees have an official licence to harass and dehumanize passengers at their own discretion. Their practices are informed by the biases of whoever ends up working at the airport that day, rather than scientific data and objectively proven methods of stopping terrorism.

The result is a miserable experience for everyone flying. There’s no reason for the long lines that force us to wake up at unruly hours or rush to our gate so we don’t miss our flights. We shouldn’t need to watch as some creepy guy rummages through our toiletries and yells at us for forgetting to take our iPad out of our carry on. Rather, we should scrap this waste of taxpayer dollars and make flying the easy, open experience it used to be.

The absence of TSA does not mean we would have no security at all. Before the TSA, private companies managed security detail. The difference is that passengers were subject to procedures that were reasonable and effective. Simply scanning bags for red flags and major weapons like bombs and firearms sufficed.

Other major airports around the world have managed to avoid an attack with far lenient procedures. Take the London Heathrow airport, which uses automated lines that immediately scan your boarding pass before you walk into security, as opposed to a person who checks off your boarding pass and stares at your ID at a painfully slow rate.

Of course, this isn’t to suggest that the U.S. is the only place where you can have an invasive, unpleasant travel experience. Plenty of travel blogs reveal similar stories of passengers who missed flights because of incompetent security employees or those who were groped by power-hungry employees. But these stories tend to be anomalies rather than the norm. Inefficiency is a feature of the TSA, not a bug.

The bottom line is this: if the only thing stopping us from eliminating an ineffective, unpleasant, racist, 7-billion-dollar security regime is that people think it works, we should put the program out of its misery and divert those funds towards measures that actually work.