Nov 17 2010

What is to be done about TSA?

We’re pleased and excited to see the spontaneous outpouring of grassroots outrage at the latest TSA “Standard Operating Procedures”, which offer would-be air travelers a Hobson’s choice between forms of submission to secret rules, illegitimate authority, and invasion of personal privacy.

TSA wants us to choose between a virtual strip-search (x-ray or similar photography through your clothes, with the as-though-naked high-resolution photos viewed by a TSA agent or rent-a-cop out of your sight somewhere in a little porno booth in the bowels of the airport), versus vigorous manual groping of your entire body with special attention to your genitals and breasts.

We’re equally pleased and excited to see that outrage move beyond mere complaint to direct action and resistance, primarily by those “opting out” of both the “whole body imaging” and the groping, and calling on others to do the same.

We thank those who are taking action, even what we think may be ineffective or insufficient action, against TSA’s excesses. The public’s frustration with TSA’s ever-escalating demands was bound to explode eventually, and we hope that time has truly come. We just hope that the results will move us in the direction of real reform, rather than “concessions” that leave us worse off than before, or band-aids followed by more excesses after the public calms down.

For many years, TSA has been writing its own laws, in secret, in the form of “Security Directives” to airlines and “Standard Operating Procedures” for TSA employees and contractors. We’ve requested the directives and procedures that purport to say what travelers are required or prohibited from doing. That’s our right under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). To date, TSA has either refused our requests outright or ignored them. For months, until they were caught by the Associated Press, the most senior FOIA and “privacy” officer for DHS gave direct orders to the TSA not to provide us with any responses without express prior permission from DHS headquarters.

“Get photographed as though naked or get groped” isn’t the only new TSA imposition. This month, apparently, TSA issued more secret orders to airlines as part of its illegal Secure Flight passenger surveillance and control scheme. The airlines have begun threatening to cancel reservations and deny transportation to paid and ticketed would-be passengers who haven’t provided the airlines (and thus the TSA) with their “full name”, gender, and date of birth. No law requires passengers to do so, but TSA is trying behind the scenes to force airlines to refuse to carry people who don’t.

So what is to be done? Real reform of TSA procedures would include:

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