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TSA’s Roadmap for Airport Surveillance Moves in a Dangerous Direction (eff.org)
266 points by ccnafr 42 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 126 comments

Important to note that the TSA has largely been ineffective: "In a 2016 survey by the Department of Homeland Security Inspector General (IG), the TSA missed 95 percent of the weapons and assorted contraband carried into commercial aircraft cabins by undercover investigators"


And think of it this way.. they went from zero to over 50k employees in two years.

You don't get that by hiring the best and the brightest but by lowering the bar so far that as long as you're semi-literate and don't have a record of violent crimes, you're hired.

I've flown ~100k miles each of the last few years and they're getting more arbitrary and few can point at the actual rules they're enforcing.

And it's worth noting that they are agents and not officers which places them closer to bureaucrats than law enforcement.

I was pretty alarmed by the culture described by This American Life:


Even if we were just erecting pure security theater, it'd be great if we could not build a refuge for pervasive sexual harassment or psychological abuse at the same time.

I remember reading not long after the TSA (operationgrabass?) started they were advertising on pizza boxes.

Ineffective at preventing hijackings of airplanes, but that is assuming that the purpose of the TSA's airport security measures is to prevent hijackings. More likely it was originally intended to reassure the public that flying is safe by presenting conspicuous screening processes, and considering that it remains politically impossible to wind it down, I think it was very successful. Consider this: a few years ago the TSA leadership suggested that it would probably be OK to allow small knives through the checkpoints, and not only was the idea killed by Congress, I even heard my otherwise intelligent aunt express how terrifying the idea sounded to her.

The basic purpose of the TSA is to prevent a collapse of the air travel market, and now it seems that a few related business interests are also part of that picture. What is or is not allowed through the checkpoints is as much determined by what the public is afraid of as by what will work well for airport businesses and airlines. The shoe rule is slowly but surely going away (it does not apply to anyone who participates in the various pre-screening programs that have been developed; I am guessing it will be gone in general a few years from now), but the equally pointless liquid rule remains in place for everyone. The only difference is that one of those rules boosts sales for airport businesses while the other only makes the lines to get through the checkpoints longer and discourages flying. The proposal to have all laptops go into checked bags was killed almost as soon as it was thought up, even though there was some legitimate concern about attacks strategies involving laptops (it seems to be more realistic than the liquids plot), simply because airlines said it would have too negative an impact on their ticket sales (especially for business class seats, which are the most profitable per square foot of cabin floor space).

What makes you think the TSA has a net positive effect on the air travel industry? TSA is dehumanizing and makes me hate traveling. It's insulting and humiliating to be forced to wait in line and perform useless rituals.

> one of those rules boosts sales for airport businesses

This is pub talk, essentially the broken window fallacy. Making travel unpleasant is unlikely to have helped the airline industry.

There is really no doubt that airport businesses saw their sales increase after the liquids rule went into effect. The rule had little impact on the public's willingness to fly and does not really increase the line lengths at the checkpoints, but it does create a captive market of thirsty travelers surrounded by shops selling water bottles.

It is also a fact that after the 9/11 attacks the airline industry nearly collapsed because people were afraid to fly; the TSA was created for the sole purpose of calming those fears, which restored confidence in flying (and therefore increase ticket sales). You may not be afraid but a lot of people do believe that the checkpoints are keeping them safe while they fly, and a large fraction would probably think twice about flying if the checkpoints were reduced in scope (or eliminated entirely).

> It is also a fact that after the 9/11 attacks the airline industry nearly collapsed because people were afraid to fly;

This is meaningless without mentioning time ranges. The TSA was created one month after 9/11, so there was no opportunity for any alternative course to ever take place.

Why didn't the airline industry "collapse" in other countries lacking the TSA? And what does "collapse" mean, exactly?

> the TSA was created for the sole purpose of calming those fears, which restored confidence in flying

And the PATRIOT act is for patriots. It is not worth mentioning that GW Bush said we're going to do X because of Y.

Are you old enough to remember what it was like to fly pre-9/11?

If anything the TSA made things more difficult for airports who were hemorrhaging revenue despite whatever magic safety rays you feel the TSA was projecting into the populace. (What are the properties of these safety rays and why even years after they began eminating did we still see airlines in bankruptcy, flights canceled, and dependence on federal loans? If in fact they were meant to increase passenger counts they didn't seem to do a good job, and just look like an unexpected added cost to contend with along with declining income -- some lost income directly due to security measures like preventing non-travelers from giving business to any shops beyond the security checkpoint. Liquids weren't even banned for years, after a slew of attempted liquid explosion attempts, almost like the TSA is an entirely reactive force ever since its creation.) On the more tangible side of things the airports had to pay the costs of the new security measures, which weren't trivial -- e.g. just the explosives detection systems for checked baggage cost billions to be rolled out. How much for the body scanners some years later?

>"It is also a fact that after the 9/11 attacks the airline industry nearly collapsed because people were afraid to fly"

No that it is not a "fact." The airline industry in the US was already experiencing financial problems prior to 9/11. There was also a bad recession at that time which translates to lower demand for seats. Additionally all flights were grounded for 2 days after 9/11 resulting in huge financial losses for the airlines. The combination of these things resulted in large layoffs by the airlines, potentially sending the airlines into a death spiral. The industry was then stabilized by a 15 billion aid package from congress. A near collapse was not caused by people being afraid to fly.

> There is really no doubt that airport businesses saw their sales increase after the liquids rule went into effect.

Correlation is not causation. I could simply have been a time where the fear of flying grew staler than the need to fly/benefit of flying.

I think people here are reading you as defending the TSA, when all you're really saying is that a lot of the public support it, notwithstanding the inconveniences it causes them.

If your premise that the purpose of the TSA is to prevent collapse of the air travel market then why can't this service be handled privately by the airlines?

There was airport security before September 11, 2001. The planes were hijacked with relatively mundane items. The reason the hijacks succeeded was not because of the weapons that got past security. It was because up until that point, the standard operating procedure was to cooperate with hijackers. By the time anybody realised that they were not "normal" hijackings, it was too late.

The one change that actually made this problem go away was adding a secure door to the flight deck. A box cutter isn’t going to be a threat to pilots behind that door.

I saw a guy in front of me at the airport get stopped for a water bottle after the scan. They said "you can't have anything on this list"... at which point he pulled a box cutter out of his carry on and asked "do you need this too"...

I once made it through TSA with a set of screwdrivers and razor blades (painted houses for a while) in my backpack.

Noticed those in the hotel after I landed and they most definitely went in my checked bag on the trip home.

They've still managed to find 100% of the bottles of water I've forgotten about and 100% of the water bottles with trace amounts of water still in them.

I assume that’s because they see them all day long so they are pretty good at spotting them in an X-ray. They don’t see weapons or actually threatening objects very often, or ever except for training.

You can bring frozen water through. Just drink the liquid before you actually get screened.

Once you drink half, refill it at a fountain (or lukewarm water from a bathroom sink if you can funnel it in) to have more cold water.

Many major airports (and many minor ones it seems) offer a way to refill empty bottles after the 'security' check. That's not really the point of my comment though.

The latest trick is to have ‘convenience’ warm water at the toilets after security, so you can buy water bottles at the shops.

I've never had problems asking restaurant bars inside the terminal for ice.

That will not fly in Europe. The size of empty bottle also needs to be smaller than a specified size.

If your bottle is empty it can be as big as you want. If you have anything with liquid in it (or semi liquids like toothpaste) the container must have a capacity of less than 100ml.

There are exceptions for medications and baby food.

Flew through France with a refillable bottle no problem. Where about a is it an issue? Want to make sure my expensive bottle isn’t donated to security.

Paris CDG and London LHR took empties a few months back.

Maybe I just got lucky? Flew out of cdg last month.

Where is it against policy? I recently brought frozen water through e.g. Malaga airport.

Well Coca Cola doesn’t make any money on Dasani or Smart Water if you slip on by!

So, this statistic is a little bit incomplete. It's relatively easy for clever operators to sneak contraband past TSA, but the TSA does confiscate a lot of potentially edgy stuff from travelers' carry-ons: thousands of firearms (including loaded), knives hidden in deodorant, many pounds of black powder.

So while it is easy to beat, the TSA screens do succeed at enforcing the most obvious violations to current regulations. Whether the signal (things that seem like they reasonably should be confiscated) to noise (toothpaste, water, nail clippers, pocketknives) is acceptable, I don't know.

....but, the goal isn't catching violations of regulations. It's stopping actors with bad intent.

There was no epidemic of "plane knife fights" or "accidental pistol discharge in planes". Catching incidental weapons that weren't going to be used for harm is basically zero value.

All of the value comes from stopping people with bad intent from having weapons. If 95% of them can get through, then that's a very bad system.

In other words, I don't think you've correctly identified signal vs noise.

I disagree. The TSA has no mandate to determine intent - the organization was created to stop those with bad intent (and others) by enforcing regulations on all travelers. Maybe that isn't a good approach, and the high level goal is misaligned with the TSA's goal, but it is the current approach.

There was no epidemic of plane hijacking, either.

I have no data on the intent of people taking loaded firearms or black powder on planes (or knives in teddy bears,

Saying that 95% of people with bad intent can get through is unsupported by the statistic OP linked.

My point here is not that the TSA is great (I personally think it is pretty useless), but to suggest that single statistic is insufficient to demonstrate that the TSA is useless - you also need something indicating probably nothing bad would have happened had the TSA not confiscated all the currently banned stuff.

There absolutely was an epidemic of hijackings, in the 1970s. Then new laws were put in place banning weapons from planes.

That's the system that was in place up until 9/11, and it was run by private airport security. The TSA was a response to that.

But it wasn't the only conceivable response. Changes to private security screening rules would have been another option. The TSA isn't just there in a vacuum. And if people who try to sneak items past it can succeed, then its mandate isn't very effective.

Part of why another 9/11 hasn't happened is that terrrorists know that people know that hijackings can be very deadly. So people wouldn't be so passive anymore. The 9/11 hijacking was done with box cutters. That feat couldn't be repeated again, even with box cutters on the plane.


If we fill out the statistic by saying that the TSA has a high success rate in confiscating items from people who aren't trying to hide them, but a 4% success rate in getting them from people who are trying to hide them, that works out to an overall failure rate of 96%.

We only care about trying to take these things from people who are hiding them. Inconveniencing innocent travelers is a cost of the TSA, not a benefit.

But loads of the stuff the TSA confiscates is hidden - it's probably just hidden because the TSA is really annoying, and people want to take their e.g. pistol to their destination.

No sane person would pack a handgun in carry-on baggage on purpose (the potential hassle if discovered is just too big). When stuff like that happens, it's usually either because people aren't aware or forgot that they're not supposed to do it - might sound strange, but it really happens - or it was a mistake while packing.

By hidden, I wasn't referring to guns just left in bags. The TSA calls it "artful concealment" - stuff like guns taped to steel plates (for X-ray shadow) or knives stuck in the bottom of deodorant. Maybe those people just forgot it, but that's a pretty weird thing to do at any time.

I don't see how sane plays into it - either they are sane and accidentally have a gun in their bag, or they are insane. How can you filter by sanity?

Point is, probably most of the people with guns, swords, etc are not malicious, but I haven't seen any statistics on that, only this 95% cited over and over again.

How often does that happen, though? I can't even recall last time I heard of a case of someone deliberately trying to conceal a gun or a knife in luggage.

198 artfully concealed items found in 2017: https://www.tsa.gov/blog/2018/01/29/tsa-year-review-record-a.... That's pretty extremely rare, given the number of people who go through TSA screens ever year.

I'd recommend reviewing the link though, as that number includes things you might not think are deliberate attempts to hide stuff (swords in canes?).

And our best estimate of their rate of taking hidden stuff is 4%. The fact that they catch a lot of stuff doesn't mean they're getting more than 4% of stuff.


Creating throwaway accounts to troll or flame HN threads will eventually get your main account banned as well. Please don't.


It acts as a deterrent, similar to door locks in homes.

Lockpicking is relatively easy, and there is always brute force.

I suspect the better deterrent, and the reason we haven’t seen another attack remotely similar to 9/11, is that the terrorists know we won’t fall for that again. There would be a whole airplane full of people willing to take down a would-be terrorist.

The TSA is just a pacifier for people who buy that they’re effective.

Yes that attack was viable for less than 1 hour. On flight 93 the passenger revolt began at 9:57AM, and the the first plane hit the World Trade Center at 9:01AM

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_93

> After the hijackers took control of the plane, several passengers and flight attendants learned from phone calls that suicide attacks had already been made by hijacked airliners on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. Many of the passengers then attempted to regain control of the aircraft from the hijackers. During the struggle, the plane crashed into a field near a reclaimed strip mine in Stonycreek Township

And if that hadn’t worked, before the crash the military was already authorized to shoot down that flight. So the system adapted quickly.

Also, we lock cockpit doors now and pilots aren't going to let someone in just because they threaten passengers or crew members with harm.

I think we should give up on the TSA theater, but most people seem to want it. Makes them feel better, even if their rational minds know it's a lie.

> just because they threaten passengers

I'd say "especially if" rather than "just because".

Cockpit doors are also thicker steel now as well

This might be a stupid question, but, airplanes are computerized, can they be programmed such-that they simply won't fly into buildings, cities, restricted airspace, etc..

I think that would set a dangerous precedent. Systems mess up in all kinds of strange ways. The human pilot needs the final say, especially in an emergency situation.

I think they were saying the autopilot only kick in if the pilots fail to acknowledge it.

No. Computers aren't magic in that way, and we leave those types of decisions up to pilot's for a reason.

With any advanced system, we use automation to decrease the complexity of a task by which to act as a throughput modifier by decreasing barrier to entry for safe pperatiom.

If you start throwing in computers which fight the operator at every step, you'll start seeing people (1) move away from the system, (2) subvert the system, (3) start trying to make a buck off of selling systems they claim will fix everything, while not really dealing with the issue.

Plus, computer vision just isn't there yet.you're talking about giving a machine the ability to integrate a whole lotus different streams of data and reliably making a decision to veto the pilot's instructions.

Air plane auto-pilots keep the plane on a specified course; they don't do obstacle avoidance. Planes aren't even programmed to avoid mountains, let alone buildings.

So, you'll put locations of all things that plane is not supposed to fly into on the plane? Also you will program it to automatically fly around? #whatcouldpossiblygowrong?

I'd argue a better deterrent is knowing that there /might/ be an air marshal on the plane AND/OR the unknown security screening done on my checked luggage after it leaves my hands. The TSA are a terrible experience for anyone that encounters them, often giving a poor impression of the US to many first timers, and they are bad at their job! Yet we're not looking to take another approach? It's frankly...pathetic.

With all do respect, that's not the best deterrent. The best deterrent is the door.

Anyone who knows anything about the Germanwings crash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Germanwings_Flight_9525) knows this. The pilot used an axe on the door for minutes while knowing he was going to die. He didn't get in. Everyone died.

The risks of hijacking are slim to none, unless you're going to hack the plane. If you're going to hack the plane you just need a laptop.

The TSA is a federal jobs program. A nice joke I heard is to disband the TSA and have them be the workers building the wall. Sure it would be useless, but at least it wouldn't inconvenience law abiding citizens just trying to go about their day, treating them like criminals.

We could in theory draft them into the Army Corps of Engineers and make them push wheelbarrows full of sand and gravel around in the Sonoran Desert.

I like this idea.

While it might just make me feel better about all the times they made me remove my laptop from my bag, or take off my shoes, I would almost rather see them given real skills so they can be a useful part of humanity.

If you’re talking hijacking sure, i still think someone claiming “i have a bomb” will get commands through the door without it ever opening if they’re smart enough about it. The door is a good defence from immediate physical harm for sure, and probably the best change the industry has made in a long time, but i still think the security through stated obscurity element of the TSA could be improved to socially influence those considering any act against an air crew.

So the choice is:

1. Open the door and the person uses the plane as a big bomb.

2. Don't open the door and the person uses a smaller bomb.

You die either way. What's the choice here?

That’s kind of my point? The door while having an impact doesn’t really change much.

> The door while having an impact doesn’t really change much.

What do you mean? Without access to the controls of the plane, they hijackers cannot accomplish their goal of using the plane as a big bomb. They are deterred because it costs a large amount of operational resources to only fail the mission. If they wanted to simply kill people, they have simpler means (much cheaper means) to hit soft targets.

Not only that, the complex, involved missions involve more people which raises the risk of failure, of being caught ahead of time, and of unwinding the clues up the stack. If they are going to take those risks, they want a certain chance of success * size of outcome.

I said this below, but just to throw it here anyway: while that's been true up until now, i'm expecting that to change. Using the plane as a bomb has historically required cockpit access, i expect in the future we'll see a similar attack without cockpit access...just because people will get creative and find a way, if they really want it.

I'm not really at all sure how to even begin to respond to that.

I mean surely you think that flights AA 11, ua 175, and AA 77 were materially different than UA 93. So I really don't get your point.

You mean that one made it to it’s target and the other didn’t? Maybe I’m misunderstanding your point because it doest really feel like a discussion, rather an interview?

Like, sure, if that’s success then ok...again I’m just saying i think there are alternative ways to improve security, and while a locking door is one of them, the TSA is probably another great place to look for improvements. It feels like the US airport security situation is stuck in the world of “look busy and sound strict, people will behave and respect the security of planes”, but really it’s just a giant pain in the ass for most people and meanwhile mostly ineffective at stopping actual risks from passing through to the aircraft.

Real question: do you work for the TSA or airport security in some way?

I mean I feel like it's obviously true that a successful hijacking means using the plane as a bomb.

If you want to just kill a lot of people there are far cheaper and more effective ways. Check out the concerts being attacked.

So the door is all you need.

Yeah, it's certainly a big success to use the plane as a bomb. I'm really just trying to say, and obviously doing a bad job at it, that i don't think access to the cockpit is required to achieve this. So far that hasn't been demonstrated, but the fact that the cockpits were so accessible in the past obviously meant that people didn't need to worry about it. I predict in the future we'll see similar attacks carried out, despite not getting access to the cockpit. It'll require creativity, but it just seems like a matter of time to me.

It seems like the Intelligencia is leveraging the TSA to collect as much information as possible on all US Citizens that use an airport while the TSA pretends to keep Americans safe.

You have to admit it does make good "Theater for the Masses" when you see them stripping down an 80 year old in a wheelchair or dragging an 8 year old off to the side for additional screening.

This is what happens when "The People" lose control of the Government.

> This is what happens when "The People" lose control of the Government.

That seems doubtful. Nearly everyone agrees that TSA checkpoints are irritating and slow, how many would actually vote to abolish them? Even just returning back to pre-9/11 security?

I think we have exactly the government most of us want. That's the uncomfortable truth. If the majority of voting citizens wanted the TSA gone, it would be.

> I think we have exactly the government most of us want.

We have a President who was the second highest vote getter, and a Senate where the majority party was elected with a minority of the votes (counting across the most recent elections for each seat.)

So, no, we don't have “the government most of us want”, independent of the TSA.

> If the majority of voting citizens wanted the TSA gone, it would be.

Look, if the majority of the voting public wants a particular Presidential candidate elected, at the time of voting, that still relies on them not having an unfavorable geographic distribution to work out.

A policy that is more distant from a single candidate election, and which must compete in any voting decision with other policy preferences for importance and which requires action by both the President and the Congress to effectuate is far from guaranteed.

That is the exception proving the rule. Aside from the Connecticut Compromise, agreed to at a time in our history when very few citizens could even vote, the United States remains fairly responsive to popular opinion. Politicians have to get votes, and if abolishing TSA was popular enough to swing votes, we'd have politicians falling all over themselves to make sure everyone knew they were the right guy for that.

But... it's not. The TSA and the rest of our various police forces stick around because while a few loud people complain about the threat to liberty, the vast majority of people quietly vote for more safety.

> But... it's not. The TSA and the rest of our various police forces stick around because while a few loud people complain about the threat to liberty, the vast majority of people quietly vote for more safety.

Or they don't want to see the impact of nearly 100,000 government mandated jobs lost. It's an assumption to think "the vast majority" are looking to the TSA for safety.

It's like adultery, still a crime in many states, including a felony in a few (and in others, is a crime only a female can commit). Despite no prosecutions in decades, it's still on the books, not because it should be, but because no politician wants the backlash of "non-family-friendly" that'd come with "decriminalization".

> That is the exception proving the rule.

You do know that expression uses “prove” in the (otherwise uncommon in modern English) sense of “test”, not the (more common in modern English) sense of “establish the truth of”, right?

And which of the multiple examples I cited is supposed to be the singular exception? (And, certainly a Senate that is minoritarian but for conditions of either supermajoritarian popular alignment or fortuitous geographical alignment of the majority isn't an rare exception, it's a fundamental and conscious design feature.)

The United States isn't a majoritarian government by design, and very commonly does not (and certainly does not now) have the government most voting citizens want. It's even less the case that it is majoritarian on any single issue; there are many issues you can find where there is a durable majority opinion not reflected in government policy. (In part because it's not the sole issue and multiple issues compete in electing representatives, in part because candidates manipulate voters with false positions which they find reasons to blame other people for having fail, but in large part again because even a majority voting solely on one issue, for politicians honestly pursuing the voters' preferred position, doesn't guarantee winning control of either House of Congress or the Presidency, much less winning all three or winning both Houses of Congress with a veto proof majority, and so does not guarantee ability to legislate the desired goal.)

We live in a representative democracy with indirect control for voting citizens, the granularity you suggest is possible when voting is only possible when there is a direct democracy.

If there is serious, broad outrage about an issue that lasts through an election, then change may come for that issue under our current system. As is, stuff that most of the voting public objects to happens daily, but these actions are shielded by our current system.

I've always said why don't we let the market decide.

Offer flights with TSA screening for $10 extra or flights with no screening.

The “let the market decide” solution is to make the airlines strictly liable for what happens with their planes and let them and their insurers figure out the best security strategy.

> It seems like the Intelligencia is leveraging the TSA to collect as much information as possible on all US Citizens that use an airport while the TSA pretends to keep Americans safe.

What information does the TSA collect?

I can't think of anything the airlines don't already collect when you buy your ticket.

Not to say this would actually change, but absent the TSA, airlines could mostly get along fine collecting zero personal information. It's not really relevant to the service -- all they need to know is that you have a valid ticket. I suppose a name is helpful to have attached to a checked bag, in case of misrouting, but even that could just be done by your ticket/reservation number.

There's no inherent reason your identity is more relevant for a plane ride than it is for taking the bus.

if you think TSA is getting hard to handle with unreasonable surveillance, you havent taken a road trip lately.

Riding my motorcycle from the east coast to the southwest I was stopped by "border patrol" at least 100 miles from any border I could see. After refusing to answer any questions, I was detained for an hour near the AZ border until agents could photograph my sugar skull patch and empty all my bags on the side of the road.

I'm not sure if there are more than usual now but those of us in TX have dealt with interior checkpoints traveling anywhere near MX I'd say most of our lives. We go out of our way to take paths that avoid them. If you didn't know they existed it makes sense that they'd surprise you. I didn't know until moving to TX and going on aimless roadtrips in my Jeep, quite the surprise. And yeah, they'll harass the hell out of you. Everyone has some friend who was detained for something or other then released. That's why we avoid them if we're not actually going to MX. Specifically I remember a friend getting detained for an expired drivers license when he was just a passenger.


edit: Evidently there are some near Canada as well, didn't know that.

Near Canada, there's also ferries to consider. CBP has been using some rather flimsy rationale to justify customs & border inspections on domestic ferries from San Juan islands to Anacortes on the mainland, for example. Basically, you are a US citizen, living on US soil, and travelling to another place in US without crossing any borders by the only means available at your location - and that translates to "papers, please".


Border checkpoints inside the country?

Iirc anything within 100 miles is considered the border zone. And that turns out to be an awfully large percentage of the heavily populated areas of the country

California has it's own checkpoints, although they're purely about keeping pests out: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/pe/ExteriorExclusion/borders.h...

And more often then not they flag you through before you can even slow down. They’re just really interested in trucks. Hawaii also does a checkpoint when leaving.

Because pests only travel on highways ...

Yeah, a lot of the popular ranches are within 100 miles of the border where the border patrol sets up jurisdiction. South Texas consists of an insane amount of huge ranches. Stuff by Uvalde, etc.

If you fly a private plane to MX you also have to land at Laughlin AFB at the border and have your plane searched.

The US Border Patrol has jurisdiction 100 miles from any international border or coast, or something like that.

yeah, there are 2 fixed ones between Yuma and San Diego on the I8.

> at least 100 miles from any border I could see.

Most of the population of the US lives within 100 miles of a border because airports count as a border.

Only land and sea borders count. If you include airports, all of the US becomes border zone, which defeats the purpose of the regulation.

The purpose of the "regulation" is to circumvent the US constitution, without actually amending the constitution.

Or is the on the face purpose of the legislation really a lie like so many others?

What is going on in the world? Why are governments bringing in authoritarian measures all the time? I don't get it. It can't always have been this way.

Authoritarianism is the historical norm in every human civilization. In fact America is one of the only examples of an empire that has been democratically governed since its inception. America is also a rare example of a revolution being followed by a lasting, multi-generational democracy (and that was a close call -- remember that our first president was the commander of the army that fought for revolution); the typical pattern is for some military leader to refuse to give up power after a successful revolution, or if a democracy is established it will usually end quickly after it is challenged by some crisis. Examples are plentiful and can be found in the histories of every region of human habitation on this planet, and it is a fantastic example of a phenomenon that seems to transcend things like technological development, culture, religion, and so forth.

Remember that for a democracy to work people have to be active participants, and most people have other things to worry about in their lives. Democracies tend to erode over time; every crisis will lead to a bit of erosion of a democracy, and if the democracy is not reinforced following the crisis, it will be eroded even further during the next crisis. The decline of the Republican system of Rome is an interesting case study -- crisis after crisis weakened the democratic institutions until Caesar struck the final blow.

Right, but this doesn't explain the speed of recent change.

Maybe Steven Pinker jinxed civilization the same way that guy did who wrote a book a few years before WW1 about how globalization made war between modern states unthinkable.

What makes you think this is unusually fast? If anything the example of Rome was unusually slow, which is why it is so easy to understand the sequence of events. The current trends are proceeding far slower than the decline of the Weimar Republic: in 1928 the Nazi party won less than 3% of the vote; in 1930, over 18%; in 1932 they were the largest party in parliament with nearly 38%; after 1933 free elections stopped being held and Hitler was given the power to enact laws without a parliamentary vote.

[Edit: Edited to correct the vote totals for the Nazis in 1930 and 1932.]

> Hitler was given the power to enact laws without a parliamentary vote

It's worth noting that no bill passed recently to create this new behavior. It's all done through executive orders and other bureaucratic measures.

Congress has been happy to delegate its authority to the executive branch, the executive obviously likes it, and the judiciary isn't going to contradict both other branches, so more detail oriented democratic measures (legislation, constitutional amendments) have basically fallen away.

Thankfully the U.S. still has peaceful transmission of presidential power between the major parties. For now at least. If there was one-party rule in the executive branch for too long, things would stop looking democratic pretty fast since neither the legislative nor judicial branches seem to be up for getting Congress to do its job again [1].

[1] Like actually declaring war, requiring legislation go through the legislature, balancing budgets, passing trade deals, overturning broken laws instead of rewriting them from the bench, and just about everything else besides approving judicial appointments (which is actually happening at a steady clip for the moment).

> Thankfully the U.S. still has peaceful transmission of presidential power between the major parties.

As an outsider, i.e. European, I found this pretty interesting and alarming – but not surprising given recent developments in politics and the Republican party in particular:


> Thankfully the U.S. still has peaceful transmission of presidential power between the major parties

Let's not be too hasty there. It's being severely curtailed at the state level (several states gutting the power of Governor after democrats took that seat in the last election) and who knows what will happen with Trump. He's already screaming about voter fraud, if he loses who knows what's going to happen.

I'd argue Trump is a product of an already one party system, at least when it comes to the most important issues. With respect to anything of real substance HW, Clinton, W and Obama were more or less indistinguishable.

Because the people have become pacified and complacent and allow it to happen. They're "protecting" us, after all, so it's all good, man. There is a relatively small percentage of people who understand and care, and most are on places like HN. To the rest, it's just more noise in the ether to filter out. "Nothing I can do. Hey look, a cute cat pic."

The name of the game is distraction, and to pump so much contrary and competing information at everyone that no one can discern the truth from fiction. It's happening. Now.

From another great HN discussion today, watch this (HyperNormalization by Adam Curtis): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fh2cDKyFdyU

We get what we deserve.

They have nothing better to do. I mean that seriously.

We're generally safe, but all the security organizations need to do something to justify themselves, and have ways of thinking that always pursues "greater security" as a direction even if it overshoots what is reasonable for free people.

When security begins to impede freedom, the mandate of security must be placed below the mandate for freedom. Security is there to protect freedom as its ideological basis, so this is an obvious prioritization.

One fundamental struggle between a government and its citizens is that it is believed the more control of/visibility into citizens' lives it has, the more effective it can be at its goals. (I'm not going into whether I think this is actually true.)

Given that, there's the continual struggle between people not wanting government interference in their lives, but wanting the government to be able to accomplish some goals - people ~universally dislike taxation, but many of us think the government should be permitted to levy taxes to fund itself and programs we would like to see.

When people are uncertain or afraid, they will often make more emotional rather than purely rational decisions about clinging to solutions which purport to offer a way back to safety, even if they don't see or understand how their plan provides that.

And once people have gotten themselves into a belief system which they did not reason their way into, they are far more likely to double down if you attempt to reason them out of it.

Authoritarian measures are the political equivalent of "if you sign here, I promise to do whatever it takes to make [bad thing] stop bothering you", nevermind that "whatever it takes" is something you would never have agreed to otherwise, and probably wouldn't have agreed to before your first emotionally-fraught decision. Government agencies have incentives to favor them, because they believe the authority to do X (especially if they're given a blank check and can fill in Y,Z, and W as additional things) will let them accomplish something more readily.

It’s always been this way. It’s always easier for governments to do x, y, z if they have more control over their citizens; it’s our job to make sure that there is a balance between losses of certain freedoms and the benefits that we can get by losing those liberties.

> Why are governments bringing in authoritarian measures all the time?

Because we collectively ask them to. You can't ask them to do a bunch of things you might not consider authoritarian (though others might) and then be surprised when they finally reach your definition of authoritarian. That differing levels of "authoritarian" exists is important to remember when you cheer on extreme government oversight/invasiveness just because you agree with the cause at that time. It's hard to know you've given them a mandate until it's too late. You should disagree with unnecessary government intervention even if you agree w/ the intent, and only accept it as a measure of last resort instead of the increasingly default solution many look towards these days.

Increased airport security allows nation states to defend themselves better from situations they create.

e.g. the u.s. impinges on countries around the globe. we could never survive the blowback without strong border security.

as partwise beneficiaries of the booty, we Americans are expected to endure the dangers of releasing our biometry.

to answer your question, the u.s. used to be the oppressed... england left us well-enough alone when we rose up, and we were growing internally, not bombing six countries at once, like we are now. so no one hated us enough and we had little hate for immigrants- we wanted them to help us grow. but then WW2 happened and we sold our souls to Saudi Arabia for oil the grow. And simultaneously, the military industrial complex happened. thats how its been for three generations now and hardly anyone wants to pull out.

yes there were many other terror operations between 1800 and 1940, but their side effects, without widespread media, couldn't be leveraged to stymy the citizenry.

>we had little hate for immigrants- we wanted them to help us grow.

This is hilariously wrong. Almost every single immigrant group to the US has faced discrimination and backlash before being assimilated (if ever). Just because immigration has a net positive doesn't mean people liked it

Because they can get away with it and it gives them more power to exploit. They are maintaining damned wish lists of bills for 'convenient events'. The only reason they stop is fear that they'll be lynched metaphorically or otherwise for their actions.

Follow the money. Somebody in power is getting backhanders or has a cushy job lined up at one of the tech suppliers. The US government is one of the most corrupt in the western world.

Ding ding ding! I don't agree regarding the corruption claim (I don't think we're any worse than elsewhere, tbh) but we are seemingly infinitely willing to allow "gray-area" corruption as long as it's just for money.

> Starting in 2009, the TSA deployed Rapiscan Secure 1000 full-body scanners at many airports, phasing them out in 2013. The acquisition of the machines, training for workers, and associated personnel costs (each requires a team of five workers) has exceeded $1 billion. [1]

> ...former Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff has given dozens of media interviews touting the need for the federal government to buy more full-body scanners for airports. > ... > What he has made little mention of is that the Chertoff Group, his security consulting agency, includes a client that manufactures the machines. [2]

[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeleef/2014/10/09/tsa-boond...

[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12...

On a micro level, it could always be little better or worse than it is, more or less authoritarian, we can debate the details of the moment ad nauseum.

On a macro level, the global population keeps growing ~exponentially on a finite planet. This inevitably results in loss of freedoms/liberty. You can see symptoms of this everywhere.

Not enough attention is given to this point, IMO. It is the root of all our problems. Energy consumption, and thus climate change, would have been much more manageable issues without the world population doubling in less than two generations at the end of the 20th century.

people are afraid of any risk in their life and the mobility and ability of those who can harm people either singularly or in groups has never been greater. however the sheer number of people there are means your individual chances are pretty low but it only takes a few high profile cases to scare people.

plus politicians gain power this way by making you fear the other guy. when they cannot find a way to make you not like or trust your neighbor then they drop back to people "over there".

still most would trade a lot of freedom if they don't have to think about their own safety and that is only going to get worse as schools ensure children look to their government for that protection

Another angle is where the initial push for these new programs is coming from.

The idea of airport surveillance is itself dangerous, since "profiling" is prohibited. Either do it the way El Al does it (obsessively complete inspection of all persons boarding an aircraft) or forget it. Half measures don't accomplish the stated purpose and are only a means to population control, not for "security."

If security was private the companies involved could do it however they wanted, including using AI to profile. The TSA was created not for security but to shield the airlines from liability, and also a bit as a jobs program. In those regards it is a success.

And now the airlines and airports want private security. Go figure.

Profiling doesn't make it better - it just limits the inconvenience to a minority population. I mean that isn't new at all - there was already a 'terrorist attack swap' done between Japanese communists and Palestinian nationalist terrorist groups to dodge profiling. In 1972, the Lod Airport massacre. Not looking at the Japanese men's luggage in Israel wouldn't have helped them at all since they didn't fit the profile at all.

The truth is the airport security is worse than useless because anyone who wants to kill a lot of people can just use guns, bombs, or vehicles through walls while people are in a dense area.

Which is why one of the conclusions that Israeli airport security had after the Lod Airport Massacre was for the need to profile people for anxiety and other psychological signs of attempting to evade security, plus other risk factors like young adult males traveling alone. Israeli airport security profiling policy hasn't taught racial profiling in decades.

There's no need to teach racial profiling to Israeli, since after their mandatory military service they already know what kind of people has no right to live freely or at all. Spending years in an environment where Arabs are seen as subhuman practice targets will change a person, and in this case it means each Israeli adult has gone through military brainwash.

> Israeli airport security profiling policy hasn't taught racial profiling in decades.

Is it something that necessarily needs to be taught in order to be practiced?

One thing to consider is anything that the government is allowed to do will eventually be maximized by technology. The slightest allowed oppressions will be amplified exponentially. Since tech is going to serious amplify anything we do that makes the root principles all that more important.

The article mentions that this push to collect biometric information is happening at the same time as biometric information is being used more frequently in device security.

While I don't know if it's reasonable to think DHS is sufficiently organized and competent to actually put these two parts together w/r/t their "going dark problem", this is probably as good time as any to reiterate that as a best practice biometrics should only be used as username information, not password information.

Given that 9/11 style attacks have been mitigated with cockpit locks and guns are kept out with metal detectors what exactly are they trying to prevent?

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