There has been a lot of backlash against the advanced imaging technology, and a lot of ink spilled both in favor and against, including an article suggesting that the technology might be unconstitutional. Given how invasive both the pictures and the pat-downs are, my favorite comment came from my wife who remarked “Security theatre now has an R rating.”
I wonder how much people’s opinions come down to factors like:
- Frequency of travel. I travel several times a month, if not weekly sometimes. And though I’m on the Eurostar and European airports now, I fly through Dulles 9 times out of 10 that I’m coming to the US. I find the TSA procedures quite invasive. TSA administrator John Pistole’s wrote in an op ed piece that “in recent public opinion surveys, four out of five people approve of the machines and seven in 10 frequent fliers support the use of these machines and pat-downs.” Not surprisingly, frequent travelers are less supportive than the public as a whole. Even the TSA’s own data support this result.
- Faith in technology. I work in software security. I routinely see systems abused, misused, and hacked. I routinely see the work of software engineers pushed as fast as they can go on optimistic project plans that were won at the lowest possible bid. Remember when Windows 95 was used in Therac-25 X-Ray machines and it led to several deaths? I put very little faith in the new technology, or in the people that operate it. This is not to somehow impugn the capabilities of the average TSA person (though there have been some ridiculous incidents). Rather, this technology is quite new. It is cutting edge. Few people can really be said to have mastered it, yet. I don’t trust the technology at all. Just because it is new doesn’t mean it even functions correctly, much less does it make it better than its predecessor. Both the FAA and the IRS have had astonishing disasters in trying to replace old systems with new technology. Why should we view the TSA with less skepticism?
- Faith in government. How much do you trust the government? I’m trying not to sound like a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but there’s a lot of uncertainty about just how much your privacy is protected. It took a Freedom of Information Act request to discover that, although the machines were not going to be deployed with the ability to store images, the TSA machines had a test mode that did store images. One misconfiguration (see above) and images start to get stored. And the government has already been caught abusing it already outside of airports.
- How private you are. In this day and age of social media, lots of people are just fine with publishing a lot of stuff about themselves online. I guess if you don’t mind all that publicity of private details, this kind of reduction in privacy doesn’t bother you.
So I travel a lot, do not trust the technology, don’t trust the government a ton (but I don’t wear a tin-foil hat), and I’m a relatively private person. Thus, I think these new screening procedures don’t serve my interest. I hope the constitutional challenge succeeds, but I’m expecting it won’t.