The key points to identify;
a) The TSA does not make flying safe. The FAA makes flying safe. The TSA allegedly keeps bombs off planes but going by their press releases they've never actually done this. It's always some kid with a pen-knife.
b) For years Customs have been attempting the opposite goal, detecting stuff coming off planes. They have a good success rate, but clearly plenty of stuff gets through. Is there any evidence that the TSA has a better success rate?
c) It's not hard to get forbidden items onto a plane. It just isn't. All the TSA does is make it harder to do it via the main entrance hall. Given the amount of merchandise, and number of people who work on the "other side" of the security barrier, does anyone think it's hard? For example it's easy to take liquids on a plane, just buy them in the departure hall. [edit - It's also not hard to get a job as a TSA agent. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?]
d) Given that the TSA doesn't make us any _safer_, it's hard to find a reason for it to exist. But large govt. departments do not go softly into the night.
It takes sustained, broad-based pressure to make this sufficiently important for politicians to get involved. Until that happens _nothing_ will change. No, I lie, until that happens the TSA will spend more money, and intrude on our lives more, but won't actually provide any benefit.
Really? Just like the power and responsibility to prevent Greece from imposing further utterly useless austerity measures on its citizens lies with the Greek public? The riot police would beg to differ.
If the public anywhere was actually properly informed and asked to make a decision on any of the insanity going on all around the world, then yes, you could make that claim. But as long as we have no say in anything, you're just spewing out seemingly righteous but empty rhetoric.
Oh come on, Greece is not North Korea.
Do you really think the Greek government could push anything through if more then two thirds of the population was violently against it?
Yes, the clashes with police look spectacular but what percentage of the electorate is out on the streets?
There's a difference in their respective levels of totalitarianism, yes. But Greece, just like any other country, can turn it up a notch when "necessary".
I also suspect many people actually do believe it makes us safer. Many others probably don't care one way or another, but if a politician were to seriously attempt to end the TSA, they would be branded as soft on terror so fast their head would spin.
If you have an entire military, you don't use terrorism; you kill your enemies en masse. If you're a small band of nutjobs, you scrape together the resources for a few small hits. You hope that fear will do the rest of the job of crippling your enemy.
The way to defeat terrorism is to not be terrified. To call them on their bluff. "You are a tiny band of nutjobs. You can't kill us all. You can't even kill .00001% of us. You are less of a problem than peanut allergies. If you set off a bomb once in a while, we'll have you hunted down, and the rest of us will continue with life as usual."
If we're talking about the US population, then 0.0001% is thirty people. They can probably manage that.
However, on your broader point, nouveau-Islamist terrorism differs from more traditional varieties (the IRA et cetera) in that its practitioners are markedly less rational. For them, terrorism isn't a tool which they're applying calmly in the hope of achieving a political goal. Most of them seem to just want to kill infidels, because the existence of people who aren't Muslim makes them angry.
So I don't think the refuse-to-be-terrorized strategy actually works. They don't particularly care whether you're scared of 'em, as long as you die.
(They're not very rational or very nice.)
Did you ever notice how UBL never participated in any suicide attacks? Not saying he wasn't crazy, of course, but he was crazy like a dictator. Like, say, Hitler, he was shrewd in pursuit of his bizarre ideological objectives. You can't look at him and say Al-Qaeda had no political strategy.
There was an article on HN a while back about how 'israelification' of US airports would have a positive effect on actual security and a negligible affect on passenger experience. As a layman, it made a lot of sense to me.
For example, subways are generally known to be good terrorist targets. What's the security level on subways? In Boston and NY, it's a bunch of signs saying "if you see something, say something" and "we reserve the right in principle to search your bags (penalty for refusal: leaving the subway)".
Intercity trains are sometimes suggested to be terrorist targets (I'm not sure whether they are). What's the security level on Amtrak? Well, I've seen K9 teams at Penn station. I've noticed that K9 teams are a damn sight less intrusive than airport security (and K9 dogs are a damn sight cuter than X-rays).
Besides, you just can't kill that many people on the subway. A single bomb on a 747 can kill 400 people... and with a single gun you could kill thousands. (A knife probably isn't good enough any more since folks will fight back, but with an assault rifle you can probably kill anyone who tries.)
Chomsky and Edward Herman go over this in detail in "Manufacturing Consent" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Poli...).
When the public starts to see it for what it is, it will lose its effect, and the playwrights will have to find a new tactic.
Mind you, I agree that the TSA introduces unprecedented invasions of personal privacy. And I agree that it should be shut down on those grounds. But making the point that TSA kills because it incentivizes driving is silly.
What else is stupid? Privatized Airports. Besides security and fleet maintenance concerns, this sounds like a recipe for monopolistic airport practices, ie, come to Hartsfield Jackson, an airport paid for with tax-payer dollars. I'm not saying that public airports are run like well oiled machines, but I'd rather roll back one stupid administration than throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The former seems pretty sensible to me, the latter seems a bit crazy.
I guess the other problem is this: there's no doubt a bunch of Al Qaeda-ish folks sitting around right now plotting how to kill people. A big sudden announcement that "guess what? you won't have to take your shoes off any more" might just give 'em the idea.
Maybe you can sneak a blade through, but you're not getting on board with a gun. Maybe you can stick forty grams of plastic explosive up your butt, but you're not getting on board with a bag full of TNT. The 9/11 hijackers used shitty weapons because it was all they could get on board -- they changed the rules, and now they're stuck with even shittier weapons. The shoe bomb was a crappy bomb, and the underpants bomb was even crappier.
Now, if your point is that a terrorist would have to be stupid to even try to attack an aeroplane when so many other opportunities for killing folks exist... then you'd be right. But that's exactly the kind of stupid that terrorists seem to be... they keep on going for the aircraft rather than the crowded music festival. And hey, if they want to keep going for our best-defended rather than our softest targets then I'm not gonna try and talk 'em out of it.
Perhaps the TSA is really a desperate cry of "Oh please don't throw me in that briar patch!"
"Some might object that private firms will have incentives to cut corners on safety. It is a legitimate concern, but competitive mechanisms tend to weed this out."
What does that mean? We need to have a security incident before one private firm is replaced by another? Flying is the kind of business where you need to be spot on every single time or people will surely die. TSA is obviously not the way but neither is simply saying that market forces and capitalism will solve the problem.
Some might object that private firms will have incentives to cut corners on safety. It is a legitimate concern, but competitive mechanisms tend to weed this out.
Ugh, how are they going to 'weed this out' exactly? Seems to me competitive pressures would lead private firms to do exactly what the TSA is doing i.e. give the appearance of being serious about security. And do it cheaply. Christ, all these high-profile hacks against big corporations recently and this guy really expects anyone to believe that competition will 'tend to' force businesses to take security seriously? The author hasn't given this a lot of thought, I strongly suspect.
The TSA is awful. But the idea that competition and the free market is a panacea for all problems financial and social is too often used as a crutch by bureaucrats and politicians who don't want to do their god damn jobs, and as a cudgel by idiot pundits on the payroll of big business, as we see here.
Just fix the TSA.
Edit: and it appears Forbes stores your passwords as plaintext. Really shining example of the free market and competition magically solving all our problems, fellas.
In the marketplace competitive pressure leads to better service, not worse.
LASIK has gone from a novelty for the rich to a treatment everyone can afford, for example. Possibly counter examples exist, but I can't think of any offhand. Perhaps after I've had my morning coffee.
The reason I would prefer a private company over government is that you have a choice with a private firm: don't like AA's service, think their security guys are fools? Fly with Southwest. Write a letter to AA. Become a shareholder and annoy the board with your opinions.
So do something like this: require private security firms to meet standards X, Y, Z. Enforcement by government inspection. Bust a standard, loose your business license.
This works in other areas - workplace safety, food inspection.
Am I missing something?
Anti-terrorist security measures have neither of these advantages. It's very difficult to find out how much they cost; especially if you include indirect costs to travelers. It's also very difficult to determine how effective they are since, to a first approximation, terrorists attacks don't happen even with lowered security.
This is also a problem with TSA. And we can calculate - roughly - the cost of TSA in delays, wages, missed flights.
A good argument just popped into my brain: we used to run security at airports with either local cops or private companies. This worked, pretty well, except for 9/11.
But everyone was taken by surprise, then.
(In reality customers are never that well informed to make such a decision.)
A prudent State recognizes such a thing works best with a light hand, of course.
Customers need not be un-informed on safety issues. There are many, many organizations that provide such information to consumers - think Consumer Reports, Ralph Nader and so on.
The "pure free market" ideal of caveat emptor makes businesses sound an awful like muggers loitering in dark alleys waiting for victims; something you need to protect yourself from. Sure, in a perfectly rational market and with perfectly informed participants these dangers are known and avoided, but perfection is never achieved in reality. Government regulation and licensing, when done properly, papers over the irrationality and information asymmetry by making the decision of what a business can do. After all, would any rational person eat at a restaurant that gave you food poisoning more often than not? If the government didn't force its closure lack of business would, and with more sick people too.
Nothing about what to replace it with. Long on emotion, short on details.
He's not talking about regulation here. He thinks solid airline security will just happen.
My local public-use airport (Outagamie County Regional Airport) is owned by the county.
DFW is owned by the cities of Dallas and Forth Worth.
JKF is owned by the City of New York.
What airports are owned by private interests?
The rest of the points you make I did not see in the article - but I merely skimmed, having read things like that before.
"Competitive pressure" = bad PR when a plane crashes. And then, the company will just lie low and latch on to another airline.
IE - ValuJet merging with AirTran
The TSA should be an easy agency to write a scathing article about. This author came in with some preconceived notions about the wonders of the free market and just layered the TSA on top, with little effect.
I'll take the latter.
Also, you do use separate passwords for each site which completely nullifies the majority of the risk from such a system, correct? Or could it be that you chose the convenience of reusable passwords over security?
At any rate, that the market provides "what people want" (this is not always an uncontroversial statement) is precisely why airport security can not be deregulated. People tend to undervalue security until it's too late.
This seems unclear to me. Surely, in being disproportionaly exposed to failures of security, as opposed to people getting away with insecure practices or the inconvenience of good security procedures, security professionals are going to have a distorted view of the costs of security? People tend to be very bad at multiplying in the process of making moral judgements, and its very hard to give equal weight to the sum total of traveler inconvenience our airline security policies cause relative to the risk of terrorist attacks. And there's no reason to think that the TSA takes into account the >100 people killed each year by their policies . If you think that airline passengers aren't going to allow another 9/11 that's probably more deaths right there than the TSA could plausibly claim to be preventing in terms of airline bombings.
I don't think private airline security would be perfect and it probably would go a bit too far towards lax security, but it would almost certainly be much better than what we have right now.
 As an example, people will pay almost as much money to save the lives of 10 starving orphans as they will to save 1 starving orphan. No, I didn't get that reversed, and if you've ever studied psychology you shouldn't find that too surprising.
http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/11/16/5477568-are-... and previous HN discussion http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2049894
I'm not saying searching for the dangerous person is superior to searching for the dangerous item. But I think TSA needs to be reminded that weapons don't kill people, its the people that do the killing.
Safe person + Dangerous Items = Safe.
Dangerous Person + Safe items = Unsafe.
It's like having a bank, where the front door is policed by an army, but the backdoor is wide open for employees, and every window in the place is open every day.
Given the amount of theft from airport bags, and hence stolen goods _leaving_ the airport, do you think it's any harder to bring illicit stuff in?
There's a big difference between looking for certain objects that are banned, and looking for objects that are perfectly allowed but might be in the hands of someone other than the owner.
After my incident I went to both of my Senators and my Congressman (in person) and recounted my story. I also followed the TSA procedures for reporting civil abuses, which incidentally was a completely worthless excercise.
Their written response to my Congressman's letter to them was, "We followed procedure".
They also try to identify dangerous people. That is what the TSA "no-fly" list is all about. The fact that it worked so poorly is evidence that trying to identify dangerous people has been even less effective than identifying dangerous things, and has a greater impact on civil liberties.
Furthermore your opinion about what a small group of dangerous people can do is over-inflated. FAA regulations mandate a locked pilot cabin during flight. This lock is strong enough that an unarmed man, no matter how motivated, should be unable to get into the cockpit. This does not make breaching the cockpit impossible, but it makes it harder. Particularly since, following the initial attacks on 9/11, on multiple occasions it has been demonstrated that people on airplanes will take extraordinary risks to subdue attempted terrorists.
They definitely seem to focus on identifying people rather than things. Seems to work ok for them under much harsher conditions than the US has ever or, hopefully, will ever know.
TSA is $8billion, FBI is $9billion, DHS is $55billion.
As the US military uses less air conditioning in Afghanistan, that should free up at least a couple billion.
I imagine if you paid what it really cost to have screeners with that level of training we'd be talking about a pretty hefty increase over the FBI. Mind boggling.
Probably to ICE for government provided IP protection and enforcement without due process.
That's two months of traffic for Hartsfield-Jackson.
The Israeli security model will not scale.
Your site serves 20'000 users a month. There are more than a billion potential internet users in the world. Your site will not scale.
Everything scales if you put the effort into it. Ok, maybe some things don't, but saying "The Israeli security model will not scale" just because it hasn't scaled, without providing further arguments, is a bit like saying "Rails doesn't scale" without providing further arguments. Sure, Rails does things differently from how PHP does the same things, and that means the performance trade-offs are different, but that doesn't mean it can't be engineered to scale.
And if it makes the passengers/developers happier, it may be worth looking into, not dismissing without argument.
I'm saying that requiring a face to face interaction with every person about to board an airplane in an American airport would be unreasonably expensive and introduce massive delays.
I won't deny that it works well in a country with a very high risk of terrorist incidents and a low amount of air traffic.
The US, however, flies 633 million people per year, and is at a much lower risk for terrorist attack.
You've got to pick the right solution for the right problem. Israeli security isn't it.
IMO, there have been exactly two positive security advances post-9/11: you can't barge into the cockpit anymore, and everyone in the air knows to resist attempts to hijack the plane.
Adding more air marshals, creating the draconian TSA, forbidding liquids on flights -- it's not worth the time or money.
That is not possible to do that on the commercial side not because anything TSA does but because of the reinforced cockpit doors and because passengers would fight back.
Anyone with a $15k limit on a credit card can call NetJets and order up a jet which they can load up with as much explosives as the plane can carry. Yet another reason everything TSA does is theater - it does nothing to prevent another 9/11 style attack.
Idiots with firearms or other dangerous items on planes.
Simple criminals looking for media attention.
Robberies like D. B. Cooper.
We just need better technology for TSA to make it faster and less invasive. It will happen. In the mean time, relax and enjoy the fact that you can get from SFO to NYC in less than 6 hours instead of 7 days by car.