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As the holiday travel season draws to a close, many people are getting their second yearly hand of love from the Transportation Security Administration. A better solution to air travel security is to privatize the TSA. Let each airline and airport decide, and fund, its own security.
While it's nice to think about a world in which we fly without security hassles, that world will never exist. Airlines, faced with air disasters in the news, would never put their customers intentionally in a situation where safety is laxed. If the TSA disappeared tomorrow, a substitute would quickly emerge, as airlines scrambled to perform due diligence to protect their crews, passengers, and facilities.
The TSA does more than just check IDs and grope people at random, however. According to the TSA site, they take a layered approach:
Some of these operations are best carried out by law enforcement personnel, but the TSA's best-known 'stop-and-frisk activity' is not one of them. Maybe all of those other functions could be privatized or eliminated, but for now they could be moved to other agencies -- federal, state, and local.
For instance, the No-Fly List can be maintained by the federal authorities, but could be queried by individual airlines. Or it could be scrapped entirely as a nonsensical item of security theater, since it's just a list of names -- and someone dangerous enough to commit a violent crime in the air will not balk at using a fake ID to do it.
The TSA isn't limited just to air travel. Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response teams can go anywhere:
TSA VIPR teams can be deployed at random locations and times in cooperation with local authorities to deter and defeat terrorist activity; or teams may be deployed to provide additional law enforcement or security presence at transportation venues during specific alert periods or in support of special events. TSA routinely conducts thousands of VIPR operations each year in transportation systems nationwide.
It isn't clear why the TSA is involved in such law enforcement activity, when we have other agencies for that.
Airlines and airline flight personnel have the most to lose in securing their operations. They also have an interest in balancing customer safety with customer convenience. The dynamic between a customer wanting to fly and an airline security guard wanting to protect the other passengers would be somewhat different, and more human, than we now experience with TSA operatives.
Some TSA agents understand the offensive nature of their work, and perform their duties apologetically. Others revel in the position of petty power in which their position places them. That's human nature. If they were employed by a private entity, the threat of losing their jobs for mistreating passengers would keep most of them in line. Customers who want the security theater of a TSA-style stop-and-frisk when they fly should be able to choose an airline offering that. Those wanting the convenience of walking off the street and onto the plane with only passive inspection should have that choice as wll, knowing that doing so would increase their personal risk.
Especially in our litigious society, no airline would simply fly planes and hope for the best. Instead, they would use their business creativity to take the precautions necessary to protect their investment and provide a better service.