5 Ideas for Fixing Airport Security

And one warning

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With Obama administration officials conceding that they may consider modifying the airport security measures that have enraged many Americans, a number of writers are stepping in with their own proposals for how to handle the sensitive negotiation between airport security and individual privacy. Some of the ideas are obvious and well-known, some are innovative and unlikely, and some are simply bizarre. Here are the proposals we've found so far. If you have suggestions of your own, add them in the comments and we may highlight the more creative ideas.

  • (1) Profiling  Perhaps the most high-profile recent advocate for profiling -- in other words, giving additional screening to travelers with certain biographical details, and less screening to others -- is Sarah Palin, who wrote on Twitter, "TSA: why politically incorrect 2 'profile' anyone re: natl security issues?we profile individuals/suspects in other situations! profile away ... Law enforcemnt profiles individuals/suspects when seeking info 2 prevent or deal w/other crimes;Why can't this be done @ airports 2 prevent?"
  • ...The Case Against Profiling  Daily Kos's Jed Lewison repeats the well-known arguments that have long persuaded policymakers against profiling. "Racial or ethnic profiling is foolish, impractical, and un-American. It's foolish because if you create broad categories of people that are exempt from screening (for example, white Christian men), all you're doing is telling would-be terrorists what they should look like if they want to be able to sneak something on board. It's impractical because ... you'd have to create a whole new Federal bureaucracy dedicated to tracking private information about individuals, including their race, religion, and travel habits. And it's un-American because in America everybody should be treated equally under the law -- nobody should have special advantages because of their race or religion."
  • (2) Smart Profiling  Reason's Robert Poole doesn't use the "p word" but describes a nuanced profiling system wherein every air traveler is classified as a biometric ID-carrying "Trusted Traveler" who gets minimal security, an "ordinary traveler" who gets to avoid the new procedures, or a "high-risk traveler," defined as "either those about whom no information is known or who are flagged by the various Department of Homeland Security (DHS) intelligence lists" and who get extra screening. He calls it "risk-based screening."
  • (3) Image Distortion  The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal reports, "A Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientist says he has a simple fix for the uproar over the Transportation Safety Agency's body scanners. Distort the image, Willard Wattenburg argues, and you take away (at least some of) the privacy objections that could be made. ... Bodies would be stretched as in a funhouse mirror, presumably removing any titillation associated with nudity." He says the technology is so easy it's "trivial" but that screeners would have to be trained to still recognize potential weapons within the distorted image.
  • (4) Copy Israel  Mother Jones' Kevin Drum is among several writers to mention Israel's unique airport security practices, in which every single traveler is extensively (and, in some cases, aggressively) interviewed by a trained security professional. It emphasizes psychological screening, seeing how passengers react to pointed questions, and giving more screening to anyone who the screener deems suspicious. However, Drum notes, "Israel engages in unapologetic and intrusive racial profiling."
  • (5) Accept The Risk of Lighter Security  Cato's Jim Harper notes a study predicting that annual highways deaths will increase by 11 to 275 as people drive to avoid airport security, and then he notes that in the "over 100 million flights" before these new security measures were introduced, not a single bomb attack succeeded. He gently suggests that "more thorough risk management analysis" would conclude that "accepting the above risk is preferable to either delaying and invading the bodily privacy of travelers or creating a biometric identity and background-check system."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.