Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bugger the TSA

The Transportation Security Administration has a blog. It is intended to facilitate communications between the flying public and the TSA administration. There are a few problems with the blog as it is presented though.

They do not answer questions.

Actually, they do answer some of the questions posted in the comments. They answer the softball questions. They answer the easy questions. They do not answer any of the difficult questions people have been posing to them since the day the blog was introduced.

Here's a good list of questions to bother the TSA with. The blogger team seems intent to let statist commenters handle these questions on their behalf. The goal is to get one of the actual bloggers address these issues.

Dear Blog Team,

1. The demonstrations about imaging technology only shows an image of a man from the rear as proof that frontal images will not show any intimate details. To further support the promise that intimate details are not shown, the viewing screen used by the TSA is carefully protected from view by the public. Given the track record of the TSA on "just trust us" issues, do you really feel yet another "just trust us but don't verify" is a way to increase public trust in the TSA? What measures are being taken to ensure that images from your new advanced technologies are not overly invasive and do not ever leave the TSA?

They finally posted front and rear male and female pictures, so people can individually judge if the process is too invasive.

2. Every chemist who has been asked has answered that there is no scientific basis for the 3-1-1 rule, a binary liquid explosive that is undetectable, stable, and can be easily turned into an explosive. Yes, we know about the London plot, with some guys who had no equipment and no knowledge and no plans beyond the "gee this would be a neat idea" stage, but the fact is that science has refuted both their plot and your rule. We know that the TSA has some data that contradicts the scientific facts, that they have research that contradicts scientific laws, but the TSA research is "classified" and the message from the TSA is "just trust us" with regards to a rule that violates the laws of nature. It's obvious that the TSA itself knows the rule lacks any scientific basis by the free mixing of liquids in an unshielded trash can at the check point. Given all of that, why do you keep the 3-1-1 rule?

They finally answered this one too. It's not a binary liquid, it's a liquid and a powder. The problem is that the concentration of hydrogen peroxide needed to make this work is so very strong that bomb sniffers would always detect it. The 3-1-1 rule is still an unnecessary encumberance.

3. It is TSA policy that TSOs do not have the authority to deny someone the right to fly. It is also TSA policy to not give additional screening to someone as a punishment for complaining. Note, the order of events in that statement is not extra screening leading to complaint, but complaint leading to extra screening. This question has nothing to do with avoiding extra screening by complaining about it - this question has everything to do with getting extra screening because one dared to complain about the TSA. Given that TSOs still hold complainers for extra screening, and given that holding someone for extra screening until after their plane is in the air is de facto denial of flight (although apparently not de jure), is there any plan in place to dicipline screeners to conduct retaliatory screening and de facto denial of flight?

4. Given that nipple rings are clearly not deadly weapons, clearly not disguised weapons, and that a visual inspection was actually offered as a means to solve the alarm situation, why was the traveler with the nipple rings forced to remove them?

5. In the near future, when REAL ID is implemented, the TSA has determined that the only valid IDs for flying are IDs that conform to REAL ID requirements. Several states have announced that they are either delaying or outright denying the REAL ID requirements for their drivers licenses. What plans does the TSA have to give additional screening to 100% of the travelers from those states? Have additional personnel requirements and additional space requirements already been analyzed? Given that one of those states is Arizona, with several major national and international hubs, do you think that the insistance on REAL ID instead of a regular drivers license is overly onerous a burden?

Oh boy did the ever answer this one, in part.. The answer is that every single person from a state that doesn't conform will get the additional screening. They won't budge on the rest and don't care about the intrusiveness. The plan is to blame the state and get the voters angry at their state government instead of the TSA. That is unlikely to work.

6. The biggest security hole is after the TSA inspects baggage and before the baggage is put on the airplane. Since the luggage is all either unlocked or bearing a TSA approved lock that can be easily defeated, and the TSA specifically denies any responsiblity for the baggage after screening, what is to stop a baggage handler from either stealing from the bags or planting a dangerous item in the luggage?

7. What measures are being taken to ensure that terrorists themselves do not infiltrate the TSA with the objective of becoming TSOs and therefore bypass security to get deadly devices planted on airplanes? If you cannot answer that for security reasons, can you tell us if any measures are in place at all?

8. Given that this blog is about facilitating communication, why does nobody on the blog team ever answer comments in any but the most recent entry? Why are these very questions occasionally censored?

The common theme in these questions is that the TSA has an institutional impediment to admitting error. The closest you ever come is "we are reviewing policies." Even the TSA knows the 3-1-1 rule has no scientific backing, but to repeal that regulation is to admit they did something wrong. They cannot admit they did something wrong. Therefore the rule cannot be repealed. The more I question them about their obvious mistakes, the harder it is for them to avoid admitting you made a mistake. They can, and do, make mistakes. They erred on the 3-1-1 rule, they erred on the piercings, they are going to err on REAL ID.

The common theme in the answers previously given is that not even the TSA believes what the TSA tells the public. It would be insulting if you thought your official statement ware meant to be believed. If you actually thought that statements were serious you would be showing contempt for our intelligence. Instead you are simply showing contempt for us. That is beyond insult. It shows you do not care enough about us to even insult us.


Jehan said...

Great questions. I've submitted this post to digg. You should add Digg/Stumble buttons to your posts!

Ayn R. Key said...

Ooh, now I have to learn the appropriate coding to do so.