The week of Thanksgiving marked one of the busiest travel weeks of the year. While millions of Americans braved long lines, delays and incessant security checks at airports, some did something else — they opted out of the Transportation Security full-body scans in protest of the procedure.
Opt-Out Week, an initiative started by libertarian activist Alex Jones from InfoWars.com, took place from Nov. 19 – 26. The week was meant to encourage air travelers to choose a pat-down instead of going through a security scanner.
Opt-Out Week didn’t receive much media attention, but it marked an important attempt to peacefully protest certain controversial air travel security procedures. Its inception also begged a bigger question: Is it time to re-evaluate the role of TSA as a whole? Major downsides of the scanners, coupled with inefficient, expensive and flawed practices, indicate that TSA is in need of major reform.
Airport security breaches in 2010 led to the implementation of full-body scanners as a way to better protect travelers, but the scanners have since been met with heavy criticism. Opponents argue they are dangerous and inadequately tested, leaving those who pass through subject to radiation. In addition, the scanners’ original technology breached privacy by revealing nude images of travelers. Arguably, the scanners also violate the constitutional right provided by the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure.
Proponents of the scanners argue that they foster a safer environment for air travel and speed up the airport security process. Furthermore, travelers do have the option, though probably a little known one, to decline the scan and opt for a pat-down. The pat-down process, however, has also been controversial. Complaints of excessively physical searches and reports of rude remarks have left many travelers uneasy, as well as resulted in a number of lawsuits filed against TSA.
As a result, law and policymakers on both sides of the aisle have begun to advocate for TSA reform. In 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union deemed the scanners a “virtual strip search,” and repeatedly called for the former and current heads of TSA to resign. Earlier this year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) introduced legislation that would establish a Passenger Bill of Rights and replace TSA with private security.
The public, too, is unhappy with the way the country’s air security organization operates. Public polling conducted in September found that those who fly most often — and thus have the most interaction with TSA procedures — are the most dissatisfied with the organization, and that 56 percent of frequent air travelers were not satisfied with security. If nearly three-fifths of the people who dealt with a company on a regular basis found it dissatisfactory, it surely would have trouble staying in business. Why does TSA continue to get a pass?
Congressman John Mica, the chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, put forth the same question. According to this committee, the average salary of a TSA employee at the agency’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. sits at six figures, and reports questioning the efficacy of the organization’s expensive training procedures are becoming more and more numerous. Additionally, it is becoming increasingly common to see TSA in the news for failing to do its job: This September there were multiple incidents where loaded guns got through TSA security unnoticed, according to ABC News.
It is no secret that in the upcoming year, the federal government needs to cut spending. With an average budget of more than $8 billion, TSA should be one of the government agencies carefully examined. It goes without saying that maintaining airport security is crucial, but TSA’s shortcomings and failures are too obvious to keep ignoring.
Opt-Out Week is a good start, but more direct action is needed. It is time for the government to seriously re-evaluate — and perhaps even look at eliminating — the Transportation Security Administration.
Mat Goldstein is an undeclared sophomore.