Here's what happened to me the last time I went through a TSA checkpoint:
I opted out. The TSA agent made a snide remark about about me being separated from my belongings, which I'd already put on the X-ray conveyor belt . Then, I was forced to wait about half an hour until an agent was free . There were TSA agents standing around, not doing anything, but, those people, apparently, can't do pat downs.
When an approved agent was finally free, instead of cordially walking me over to the pat down area, he shoved and body checked me to get me to move. After the perfunctory patdown, he pointed to my luggage and said I could go get it. He then stepped in front of me as I started walking towards it and gave me one last shove, away from my luggage.
So, do I like the TSA? Of course not. I have practical and philosophical objections to their process, and perhaps 20% of the time when I opt out, I'm treated like human garbage . But, most people don't have any weirdo academic objections, so they go through the regular process and everything is fine, 99% of the time. Sure, they have to to the airport half an hour earlier now, but that's a small price to pay for what they see as protection from terrorists.
 It's a bit like being threatened by the mafia: those are some nice things you have there. It would be such a shame if anything happened to them while you're away. This was sufficient to keep two couples, who initially decided to opt-out, from actually opting out.
 It's like walking into a random replication of the Stanford Prison experimenter . Will the guards be aggressively unpleasant? Maybe!
I've had about 20 pat downs in many different airports. I've never had to wait more than three minutes for someone and everyone has always been professional and courteous. As much as I hate the TSA and complain about them, the airport staff has been nice and helpful. In two or three cases they went out of their way to help me, beyond what I expected.
Edit: I should also add that I'm a middle class white male who looks "respectable". I'm not going to experience the discrimination some minorities may endure so take that for what it's worth.
But each time they ask me if there are any sensitive areas, each time I tell them, "Yes, my nuts", and each time they been respectful of my junk.
They really could do better about keeping people with their stuff that's been passed through the X-ray machine, but overall they seem to appreciate that you want to keep an eye on it.
Also, the most shocking part of the whole ordeal is usually the looks from the OTHER people in line, like they think you're going to be killed or assaulted, or "why don't you just cooperate, it's easier". That's the part that really makes me sad.
It's like asking: is abstinence effective for preventing stds? And then inferring that people prefer abstinence to condoms.
Efficacy isn't as useful as how an issue plays on the emotions of voters.
These scanners exposé you to less than 1/200th the radiation dose of a standard plane flight, and between 1/200th and 1/400th of a standard chest X-ray.
Yes, ionising radiation can cause cancer. But your chance of getting cancer anyway is 1 in 2.4.
I have no love of excessive security measures, and I personally don't think that we should ever unnecessarily cause people to be exposed to radiation, especially when other methods can do the same job without radiation, and even moreso when the efficacy of the scanners is unproven.
But I have a particular dislike of the psychogenic claims that arise around technologies that posit to do this or that, when the action of the machine or technology in question is noninvasive and especially when the action is not substantively different from normal daily exposures that every human receives anyway
standard CXR 2.4x background radiation
Backscatter Imaging 6-7% of a days background radiation (0.25 microsiverts per 'scan =1.5hrs @ background radiation or 2 minutes of an airplane at altitude)
Abdo CT: 2.7 years BG radiation
Their contention is that the argument that the backscatter x-rays are 1/200th of the dose you get from cosmic radiation on a flight is invalid, as the backscatter x-ray is specifically designed to direct the radiation to a very thin layer of surface tissue, whereas cosmic radiation is distributed throughout the entire body.
Yes, these professors were refuted by other UCSF radiology professors , but the science will not be settled until an independent study is conducted of the machines given the context of their potential for misuse and mis-calibration by individuals who are not radiology technicians.
So if you don't want your comment to come off as offensive, perhaps it would be wise to not start off with "Are you making this up, ill-informed or do you not understand physics and radiation?"
You pretty much back up my point. People who don't know the science should not comment in alarmist tones about it.
Fearmongering generally does more harm than good. In this case it seems like everyone hates the TSA, hates the full body scanners, objects to being dosed with radiation, and so psychogenic illnesses are claimed to be caused by the machine.
So the claims are false, the machines work like they're supposed to, it's just no one wants them there so hurdles are placed in the way of their implementation. Hurdles that are false.
I don't disagree that we should look further into the use, especially as I say above because there are other methods that do not use ionising radiation that seem to be just as effective
So yes, I would take the same attitude to the 3 UCSF Med school professors, just as I have to the world-famous neurosurgeon who told me as we microwaved our food in between surgeries that I had to 'wait for 3 seconds after it finishes or else the rays escape and can increase your risk for cancer' or the former head of the AMA who said during a lecture that 'there is a study that shows that homeopathy is active against cancer' with no supporting evidence. Position and title generally only qualify a person to make comments in a specific domain, as those 3 professors discovered when they got smacked down by the radiologists.
If people want to believe weird and wacky things, that's fine. If those things contravene the known laws of physics, then either there must be some spectacular evidence, at which point I will believe anything, or it simply isn't true.
you make the claim They are likely unsafe, and some small subset of people scanned may end up quite sick.
But there is still no evidence from what you are saying.
I felt, in another variation of Poe's law, that you were in fact making a claim re backscatter for people claiming sickness after moving through one. In the same manner that people claim that they can detect wifi signals and it makes them sick, or fluoride in the water is making them sick, or just why are there rainbows in our water these days?
Quoting figures I feel is even more relevant - if you are giving someone 1/200th of a CXR, you can't claim that the CXR is only penetrating the internal organs - some fraction, perhaps 1/200th (maybe less) is going to be absorbed by the skin too, because, as you would well know, that is how X-rays work.
The fact we have greater penetration at the higher energies used for a CXR or other diagnostic imaging does not rule out using the comparison to Backscatter X-rays. In fact, it can be used to validate it.
Please note again that I am not suggesting that these machines should be rolled out everywhere and that we should have to use them, because I think it's a stupid security measure.
Sounds like you're describing the dystopian future we read about and see in movies.
To criticize the people at the top, that may be fair argument. But for the higher ups and policy makers in the TSA, don't forget the old adage: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it"
I don't think so. It's very valid to criticize someone who works for a morally
corrupt, unneeded and socially harmful agency, no matter the reason. Your
argument is basically a sophisticated "but think of the children!!11oneone"
appeal to emotion, ie not a valid argument.
If there aren't any better job options (which I highly doubt), then it's
another gigantic fucking failure of the government that needs to be fixed ASAP.
No. Criticising someone for engaging in lawful employment because you think that job is immoral is fine, but don't pretend there are no valid arguments for having that legal job.
> If there aren't any better job options (which I highly doubt),
We could have a look at job ads for TSA, and the requirements of the job, and then have a look for similar jobs; and then somehow find out how many people are applying for those jobs.
And we don't know the churn rate of TSA. Perhaps people take work there and leave after 3 months because they realise it's "evil" or a waste of money or whatever.
Is anybody? A valid argument for having a job does not place an individual above criticism.
The extension of your argument (and I have seen this said here many times before) is basically that we should not criticize Rhinoceros hunters because said hunters may just be trying to etch out a place for themselves and their starving family in this world. Yeah, it would suck to be in that position, but hunting Rhinos is still reprehensible. I understand why they do it, but I cannot condone it and I cannot withhold my criticism.
If you work for the TSA you're not just contributing to the problem, you are the problem.
What makes this more damning is any TSA employee made a conscious choice to do morally reprehensible work. They had a choice. No one forced them to do their job.
In this light, the TSA employees come off as more morally bankrupt than military officers that had a gun to their head. They choose to be active agents in destroying society in trade for their own comfort.
For example, here on HN people seem very cool with the advertising industry. But I remember in engineering school, the popular refrain was that advertisers and marketing people were leaches sucking out the marrow of American industry. Yet, lots of engineers now happily work for companies in bed with the advertising industry. If you work for Facebook, you work for a company that depends heavily on an industry (advertising) that exists mostly because of government granted monopolies (trademarks), and whose business model depends on getting teenagers (who aren't competent to enter into contracts and don't really understand the ramifications) to give away their personal information in order for advertisers to try and sell them things they don't need. I think you can make a credible argument that what Facebook and similar companies do is morally objectionable, and that "I'm just doing my job" is no excuse for people who work in Silicon Valley figuring out how to maximally exploit these kids.
But I don't really want to go there (glass houses, etc). I think there is too much complexity in the underlying moral calculus for it to be reasonable to go there.
Cost per screening $11.09
Edit: Found this number:
"803.5 million scheduled passengers"
2nd Edit: Your first source already shows that "Aviation Security" only makes up 71% of the TSA budget, so that brings the cost per screening down further.
However, if you assume one screening per flight, and a one-way flight cost of $200, that's 5% of the flight's cost.
As TSA employees only make $12-15 an hour, I presume that most of that cost goes into paying for expensive screening machines and bomb-detection sensors, but that's pure speculation.
Now include the probability of such an event actually taking place, and the probability that the TSA could prevent it...
A comet strike would cause many trillions of dollars worth of damages. How much money are we spending right now on a pea-shooter based comet defense system?
I'm pretty sure the state of art of this field is deep core drilling (as of 1998, anyway)
It's the cost-to-effectiveness ratio I believe TSA is being compared.
But that doesn't mean that we can stop checking for the old attack vectors. For example, the TSA has never found a bomb in checked bags, and thus has never "prevented" a bomb attack. Does that mean we should stop screening checked bags for bombs? No. Lockerbie has shown that this attack vector is effective. The fact that they do screen bags for bombs so well has prevented attacks from even being contemplated in the first place, much less attempted.
Even so, let us imagine some alternate universe where non-TSA security adaptations have not solved hijackings... The measures the TSA has taken to prevent hijackings would not. Why don't they work? Well, what happens to you if the TSA finds the pairing knife you accidentally left in your carry on? They take it, throw it in a bin, and wave you through. The only thing a prospective terrorists is out is a knife and a plane ticket. Given their abysmal false negative rate, he will eventually succeed.
The TSA pretends to make us safe from yesterday's ploy. In reality they don't even do that. (To be clear, we are safe, but with no thanks to them.)
If the number of hijackers increases to, say, a dozen, then perhaps the TSA might help here, because a dozen men in the front of the plane armed with sufficient weapons might be able to hold off the rest of the cabin, and getting a sufficient number of serious weapons (and door-openers) though security might be too risky to make such an attack worthwhile. After all, a dozen terrorists might be more profitably used elsewhere.
The second question is whether the TSA's more onerous policies, like use of full-body scanners and bans on liquids, prevent fatal bombings of airliners (not hijackings). Clearly terrorists are not only interested in using planes as weapons, but simply causing them to crash by, say, detonating a bomb from the restroom. Here I postulate that the TSA may be doing some good by preventing terrorists from refining any one technology, but that's only one theory.
The thing most people don't know is that the reaction of Acetone and Hydrogen Peroxide produces nothing but heat. If mixed in the bathroom out of the smell of anybody, it can be left in a bottle and looking like pure water. It will slowly crystallize acetone peroxide as the reaction occurs. Given enough time - like a 7 hour flight - you could have sufficient quantities of highly reactive acetone peroxide crystals that would likely go off at the slightest movement even while still in a liquid. So screw the bathroom, it's under any seat in any backpack.
Most people think of the anarchist cookbook method that uses an acid to form it, which works in creating DADP or TATP which are the more stable variants. However they require a lot of ice, and still take a lot of time anyway.
Even a water bottle full of the mixture would produce a sizeable amount of explosive (assuming using 30% hydrogen peroxide). The fucked up thing being I can grab a can of acetone and a can of hydrogen peroxide (wood stain remover) at home depot for under $20.
The only question is how do you get it in? Boil a bottle of water and you can pop the lid off it without breaking the seal, keep that in boiling water, refill the bottle with what you want, take the lid out and push it back over, when its cooled it looks like new. I've gone to enough concerts to know how to sneak a bottle of rum in.
I really wouldn't want to be on the plane when a guy was allowed to mix together two 1L water bottles to make almost a lb of primary explosives that detonate with almost twice the force of TNT.
Make sure to label it "saline solution" and claim it as a medically necessary fluid (or any of the other numerous exempt fluids and gels) so that you can go over the 3.4fl oz limit. Hell, just call it your "enema solution". What TSA agent would look too closely at that?
Terrorists are interested in airplanes for two reasons: they can be hijacked to great effectiveness (not anymore), and they know we react irrationally to threats to airplanes (this is what we should seek to fix). With both of these fixed, the threat terrorists pose to airplanes would be no more notable than the threat they pose to any other modestly sized group of people.
Re: a dozen terrorists with sufficient weapons/tools
Even assuming they could get these weapons/tools past pre-9/11 security, which is very doubtful, the chances of it working out the way they wanted are still absurdly small. What pilot would not fly the plane straight into the ground if the locked cockpit door was actually being breached? People know that hijackings are not survivable anymore. You are either killed or someone sits on a terrorists for a few hours, there aren't any other outcomes.
A dozen men with weapons sufficient to hold off an entire plane can do plenty of damage on the ground, and they don't even need to walk through a metal detector to do it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Mumbai_attacks Why bother having a chance to kill a few hundred people on a plane when you can do the same on the ground?
Yet we don't see either being attempted...
Frankly, all of these threat scenarios are fantasies.
Here's the comment in question - http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/ciiag/so_if_my_de...
Actually this whole thread actually is relevant - http://www.reddit.com/r/AskReddit/comments/ciiag/so_if_my_de...
[Edit - They put a tracker on his friend, not him]
Also, one category of TSA agents not mentioned in this piece: Those who seem to revel in the public's disdain because they can easily make a traveler's life hell if the mood strikes them. For example, the agents in this breast milk incident: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XhnZlmLGK8
Any job that grants authority over other people probably attracts this type of employee.
I do think it is a bit silly to want to call the pictures from the scanner NSFW, because they're clearly in the context of speaking about the TSA rather than for any prurient reasons. If I wanted to see fuzzy outlines of genitals, I'd grab a pencil and sketch them myself.
Ah, but is it the employee seeks out this position because they are predisposed to exert control over others, or do they exert control because of the position they are put in, ala the stanford prison experiment (situational attribution v. dispositional attribution)
Overall, what TSA does is a huge waste of money. It's a lot to spend for security theater.
You can bet more people dispise traffic wardens than they do TSA, though as a non driver I like them.
I have also dealt with the TSA when I traveled to America and it was a fast, most plesant experience. Not everybody has a bad experience with them, they just don't do massive blogs about there experience oddly enough. Though I was not impressed with British Airways at all, but thats another topic.
But if you remove them and one plane has a problem as there was not enough checks and you can bet everybody will demand that the TSA is brought back. If you remove traffic wardens and one car gets parked illegaly then you can bet there would not be a sudden demand from the public to reinstate them. With that think of the traffic wardens and say hello, they are people as well. Though most think you are some kind of crazy for even saying hello to them as they have a installed fear of all members of the public due to intereactions with angry drivers. With that they see all people as angry drivers out to linch them; So the TSA has a long way to go to be truely dispised. More a case of misunderstood and apprecieated in some regards, but that often gets overlooked by the cry's of foul.
This is a phenomenon that can be seen in other areas too, particularly technology. I fully expect an uproar the first time a robotic car kills a family, no matter how much safer robotic cars are statistically.
It is ultimately combination of two problems I think: the inability to deal with unlikely events rationally, and the strong desire to see someone in control and responsible. How do we fix these problems? Beats me. Education is tiring and ineffective, it's statistics vs emotion.
I don't concern myself too much with empathizing with TSA employees, it seems like an odd thing to do. There are more important things to worry about in this world.
One of the reasons we hate the TSA so much is that you lose all control between the gates. If things go badly for you you must comply regardless or face genuine time-sensitive consequences.
Some TSA policies are ridiculous, but hardly a reason to waste time to "despise" them. If the TSA were the worst the government can throw at us, the country would be in much better shape.
Carry-on full of hand-soldered electronics and military hardware? Completely ignored.
I really appreciate how they're spending billions of our money. HEY - GUYS TRYING TO FIX THE BUDGET: I THINK I FOUND SOMETHING YOU CAN CUT!
My guess is that is the only way the problem gets taken care of quickly.
With that said I don't know how many of these congressmen/women travel via mass commuter air transit (RFK died in a private jet, Sen. Ted Stevens died in a private plane, etc.) but I'm willing to bet a large majority of them don't, and therefore don't get to encounter the standard procedure or are ushered through unabated. Imagine some geek in a blue shirt telling John McCain he has to take off his shoes and belt to come though the check point... very unlikely.
On a less important note:
"you literally take your car onto the tarmac and walk onto a jet, it's marvelous"
Wait, do you just leave your car parked at the tarmac for the whole trip?
The exception are the rare members travelling with a security detail, i.e. when the security detail is armed.
Journalists (at least in the UK); politicians (especially when voting wage rises for them and wage cuts for nurses); estate agents (US realtors, not sure if the US feels the same way); and bailiffs.
TSA employee is probably low wage with minimal entry requirements, so it's a good thing that people without work are taking work.
It's lousy for them that the only thing available is for an agency of dubious effectiveness and vast expense.
Seriously, "despised" is a bit of a strong word... inconvenient sure, despised probably not, for most people at least.