Today is the day before thanksgiving in the U.S., otherwise known as the busiest travel day of the year.  It is also the date of national opt-out day, an effort to raise awareness of the TSA’s use of “strip search scanners” and “enhanced pat-downs”.  While I’m sure most folks would prefer not to be irradiated, seen naked, and/or groped, they will willingly do it because (a) they want to get to their destination with a minimum of hassle, and (b) everyone else is doing it.

Robert Graham decided to address this topic and to do so he wanted to take some photos of his TSA checkpoint for his blog.  Photography is, by the way, completely allowable under TSA regulations. Unfortunately, due to the fear and concern raised by potential protesters and this opt-out day brouhaha, the TSA employees overreacted and detained Mr. Graham for 30 minutes trying to decide what to do with him.

Many folks will point to quotes from the interaction such as “Not all parts of the government are accountable to the public, especially the TSA” and think that the TSA is out to get us all, strip all our liberties and freedoms away and be accountable to nobody.  While this is a good sensationalistic view and will draw a certain type of reader, I don’t think it accurately reflects the real problem here.

The TSA really is just trying to keep us safe when traveling.  That’s their mission. They are trying to do their job.  Mind you, I disagree with many of their methods because they are ineffective and uncreative.  The TSA’s security mechanisms are focused almost entirely on solving the last security breach, not preventing the next one. That’s a topic for another post.

The TSA’s largest failure is one of communication with their officers. The TSA agents at Mr. Graham’s airport should have known that taking photos was allowable.  Matt Kernan’s post about avoiding scanners upon re-entering the US and how many different phone calls and individuals had to be involved demonstrates that communication and cooperation is limited at best.  All this behavior and resulting blog posts and press articles are exactly why a vocal minority of folks is now dead-set against the TSA, organizing protests, and being labeled as domestic extremists.

I hope the TSA learns from these misadventures and improves its communication before everyone’s view of it becomes unfavorable.  As I said before, I believe TSA is really trying to do its job, but to do that job they must walk a fine line.

One thought on “What We’ve Got Here is a Failure to Communicate

  1. Peter Hesse says:

    Kind of a brilliant move by TSA today, quietly turning off the body scanners and having the old-fashioned metal detector screening instead, nothing to opt-out of and therefore no pat-downs.

    This has shown us that the TSA will back down given enough pressure by the public, but won’t let us know they did.

    Did you travel today? Did you encounter a body scanner? Let us know!

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