Friday, July 15, 2011

So many security breaches

The news this week has been about the 250,000 security breaches at airports across the nation since 2001. The TSA is right that taking a raw number as a total across 10 years is a scare tactic and not very helpful. It's better to look at this as a percentage: there are about half a billion boardings per year, so 25,000 out of 500 million is 0.005%. But it illustrates very well that even with the draconian measures and vast power taken by the TSA, they still can't get a no-fail rate. This doesn't surprise me one bit. First, life is uncertain and unpredictable and people aren't perfect. So even in my airport utopian dream, there would be a non-zero fail rate. Second, government bureaucracies by their nature have perverse incentives that basically guarantee this type of failure.

Unfortunately, many who hear about this say "airports are not secure," with an implied conclusion of the TSA must do more.And the TSA is happy about this. As long as they can spin it as "we did our best" so they don't get fired (I'm talking about Pistole and his management team), they can simultaneously say "we need more money to do better."

But I do think that the point is still helpful. Everytime a stun gun gets through, it's an argument to throw at people who say that searching my daughter is the price I have to pay for security. Well, the security is a joke. And, as has been pointed out by pundits this week, the argument that focusing on 6-year olds and 95-year olds is making it easier, not harder, for the real bad guys to get through is gaining popularity.

I just disagree with the conclusion that the TSA could ever improve upon this, or that we should want the rights of some people breached so that the rest of us can pretend everything is fine. Or that bomb[and drug]-sniffing dogs are somehow less of an invasion of rights. I think we've seen in plain view what happens when you give state agents a little leeway to invade our rights, they just keep taking more and - even when it gets absurd - people are willing to submit.