Don’t touch my junk…

The National Opt Out Day, where passengers are encouraged to avoid the body imaging devices at airports and elect to do the pat-down procedure, will fail in causing long lines at airports. But it will succeed in attracting attention to the issue. Unfortunately, this could also be a ‘win’ for the bad guys.

It will fail because the day before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest air travel days of the year, usually, second only to the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Many passengers on those days are leisure travelers, many with kids — they are not experienced at moving through the system, which means they are slow. They will not want to spend an hour in a security line, then spend another hour waiting in the opt-out line, when they can quickly walk through the metal detector or body imager and make their flight.

However, the Opt Out Day is already a win for those individuals opposed to the screening methods, both pat down and body imaging. It is a win because it has become part of the national conversation. It made USAToday (Secretary of Homeland Security Napolitano has addressed the issue twice in as many days), and garnered the attention of the networks.

It is also a small victory for the bad guys. If passengers, who are clearly not a threat, decide to opt out of the quicker security procedures, they will draw attention to themselves, rather than the people that really deserve higher scrutiny.

The solution to the problem: common sense. We need technological methods to screen individuals and their bags to ensure they are not carrying weapons and explosives. We also need alternative procedures when the technology does not work, or when individuals are opposed to its use. The problem right now is that we’ve eliminated common sense when it comes to deciding who is deserving of higher scrutiny and how that individual should be screened.

We are treating everyone as a threat, rather than weeding those out that we are reasonably certain are not threats and focusing on the others we know less about. We’re trying to come up with better technologies to “screen” the haystack, rather than reducing the size of the haystack.

The answer goes back to behavior detection. GAO says it doesn’t work and they are probably right. The TSA’s program was rolled out too soon — it wasn’t ready for prime time. It was a quick win for the Administration at the time, but it’s time to go back and fix the model.

In the meantime, the Federal Security Director in this video is dead on right. We need to evaluate the totality of the circumstance and make a risk assessment. The TSA and airports already do this when there is a potential security breach and the individual cannot be found. At some point, the decision is made to continue the operation of the airport, aircraft or checkpoint based on a risk assessment.

TSA personnel should have the flexibility to make simple risk assessments so that we’re not having our children and ourselves subjected to embarrassing and possibly illegal searches.  We’ve hired some sharp people at the field level – it’s time to let them exercise discretion and good judgement and stop hamstringing them with ridiculous, inflexible policies.

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