The Associated Press reported yesterday that “cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.” The article goes on to report that while the rest of the public is still subject to either a body scanner or “an intimate personal pat-down,” as of Friday the Transportation Security Administration had exempted pilots from the procedure, and then on Tuesday they added flight attendants to the exemption list.
Americans have every right to be upset about this double standard. But the solution is not ending the exemption for government officials, pilots, and flight attendants. The solution is ending the blanket body scanner requirement altogether. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says the TSA is taking a “risk-based, layered security approach.” But the TSA’s continued policy of pat-downs or body scans for all suggests otherwise.
Our nation does still face a real threat from terrorists intent on attacking passenger air travel. But that threat simply does not justify the indiscriminate use of body scanners for primary screening. The TSA should not be targeting all passengers equally. Instead, the TSA should be practicing “focused security” that directs the most resources against the greatest risks. Programs like Secure Flight could be used to allow low-risk passengers about whom a great deal is known to pass through unmolested. Leisure travelers like families traveling together would receive cursory inspection. Then the TSA could focus the lion’s share of its resources on high-risk passengers about whom either nothing is known or there is specific negative information.
The best security is intelligence and law enforcement that finds and stops the bad people before they get near the plane. Pretending that everyone is a risk, as the TSA does now, is a weak substitute for intelligence. Most of this physical screening going on now has no place in primary inspection lines. There should be some common-sense screening at the airport, but let’s stop pretending that that is the best line of defense. The TSA must back off forcing all travelers to go through body scanners.
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