Saturday, November 27, 2010


I don't have quite the audience or flare of Ron Paul, but I had a thought regarding the recent complaints over enhanced search techniques by the TSA. My last flights were right before the new regulations went live, so I haven't been through any of this myself. I did have one packet each of mayo and mustard make it through four security screenings in October without being caught. I also had a TSA agent tell me to throw out my toothpaste, even though it was only 3 ounces and fit fine in my ziploc bag. I told her about three times that it was under the size limit before she finally made the connection, let it through, and said something about how it was nice having passengers that know the rules.

The basic problem I see, besides the inconsistent training, is that the TSA wants to live on both sides of the government/private enterprise line. As a government entity, their employees are shielded from prosecution for actions in the line of duty. A wave of their hand and they can call a cop over to arrest you for the most minor thing, yet however egregious their offenses, they have a shield that protects them.

This is where it gets muddy, though. They can search you with or without cause. They can hold you for as long as they feel like with no explanation. A cop can't do either of those things. A TSA agent can provoke you until you crack and then have a cop cart you off. That's entrapment in the legal world, but they want to be treated like a private enterprise all of a sudden and not be subject to the constitutional protections against government abuses. They require you to stand where they tell you and for how long and have you arrested if you give up and decide you no longer want to be their customer after entering the secure area.

Oh, well the airlines are a private enterprise, and there's no constitutional right to fly, so if you don't like it, you don't have to fly. Of course. If I don't like the color shirt the local grocery store makes its baggers wear, I don't have to shop there. If I believe soft drink companies are poisoning us, I don't have to consume their products. If I don't want to be mugged, I avoid certain streets in certain cities. Many stores have signs saying they can refuse service to anyone or that customers must wear shoes and a shirt to be served. Those are all simple enough and deal with private enterprise. There are varying levels of governmental involvement in all of the above situations, but when it comes down to it, I generally have pretty decent alternatives. If I need to get from one side of the country to the other reasonably quickly and safely, I have not as many choices. The airlines, while they are private, are highly regulated and propped up by government subsidies, since it is a national security issue in many ways.

So which is it? Is the TSA a government agency that is subject to constitutional protection against illegal searches or are they acting on behalf of their clients, the airlines, in a civil/private matter like security guards in a sports arena? Is the TSA a private organization that can make a customer wait hours while providing lousy customer service or are they a law enforcement agency that can only detain you for cause?

There is a tension here that cannot last. Perhaps we can get the Tea Partiers to take up this issue and do something useful with their powerful masses.

No comments: