There have been several recent surveys about how the public feels about the job TSA is doing [fair-to-poor], several more about privacy concerns when they’re doing it [ high-to-resigned], and several more about the TSA “success” rate [stupid people with prohibited items, but nary a terrorist….]. Having toiled in the TSA Policy and Planning Office, I won’t belabor the point; I think I understand the problems and remedies better than most survey-responders. Indeed, that bias may be part of the problem: those who do respond to such surveys tend to do so because they’re peeved, not because they’ve just had an enchanting holiday travel experience at the latex-gloved hands of a government official.
As for the privacy issue, I am of mixed emotions. Enrollees in TSA Pre-Check love it – until they are randomly pulled aside and given the full monte in spite of their paid-for background check to demonstrate what the government already knows about you… but only at certain participating airports and airlines. Nor is there any guarantee you will be allowed to join the club. If denied, they’ll keep your money, but you’ll never know why you’ve been flagged, and once accepted, you’d better stay squeaky-clean for the rest of your life or get unceremoniously booted out.
Yes, they’re watching you. Secure Flight is a continuing check on everybody that flies, and DHS is currently seeking to upgrade its reach even farther. The data is kept for 75 years – longer than most people now alive will continue breathing, although the cryogenically frozen Ted Williams might still have a shot. What began as a data base to find criminals is now used to collect mega-data about pretty much anybody, anywhere, for any reason - they already know more about you than your mother does, so now they want your $85 registration fee so they can read their own files - again. Most privacy advocates fear that it’s already a very short step to requiring passengers to be pre-approved before you can fly at all.
This takes us to the “I’m with stupid” part of the story. TSA’s “success” rate in finding weapons is relatively good – one survey places it at a national average of around 42 loaded guns every week in carry-on bags, not to mention hundreds of large knives and machetes, smoke grenades, tasers, and other such in-cabin travel essentials. Twelve years after 9-11, constant and massive media coverage, and signs every few feet while they stand in a half-hour queue, are people truly still so ignorant to have not understood the message, and/or so arrogant to think that applies to everybody but me? Who forgets they’re carrying a 2-foot machete or a loaded 45 cal. automatic wrapped up in their tote bag? If I get caught, I’ll just say “ooops, I musta forgot”. Yeah, it’s hunting season, that’ll work.