Trading privacy for ‘security’

By Luke Wilusz

The Transportation Security Administration recently announced that it would be expanding its Pre-Check program that allows certain passengers a chance to bypass some of the more time-consuming security measures at airports. The TSA has been testing the program for a few years, and it is set to expand it to several more national airports, including O’Hare, by the end of March.

Pre-Check is designed to allow the TSA to focus on unknown and higher-risk passengers by allowing frequent flyers with certain participating airlines to register with the TSA and potentially bypass certain screening procedures, such as removing their shoes and belts or taking laptops out of their bags.

I’ve always thought that the TSA’s invasive screening measures—particularly more recent innovations such as full-body X-ray photography and the safety grope protocol—are largely unnecessary. They don’t make travel safer in any significant or measurable way. All they do is provide the appearance of safety and give travelers a false sense of security by making them go through regimented, official but ultimately empty motions and perpetuate a general sense of fear regarding air travel and terrorism. And when people are scared, they are more willing to sacrifice their personal freedoms and privacy for something that makes them feel safe, even if it really doesn’t make them safer.

The government has, for the most part, been coasting on this fear since 9/11 in order to increase its power and overstep its constitutional bounds. The PATRIOT Act, overseas military prisons like Guantanamo Bay and “enhanced interrogation techniques” are just a few of the offenses committed in the name of national security. The phrase “national security” in and of itself has become a sort of Jedi mind trick officials use when they want to get away with something without questioning. You might call the whole situation somewhat Orwellian.

But now we’ve moved beyond Orwell and firmly into Huxley territory. Rather than forcefully probing further into citizens’ privacy, the TSA is offering a method by which people can willingly volunteer to give away their personal information and register on some classified government database for the convenience of skipping some invasive searches that they shouldn’t have to be subjected to in the first place. The worst part is, I’m sure the program will be a huge hit. People will think it’s a great idea, and they’ll sign up in droves to expedite their boarding process.

I know waiting in security lines and going through all of the inane motions is a hassle, but in this case I’d say it’s the lesser of two evils. I have no idea what the government would be doing with the data I submit, how long it would be kept on record or when it might be used against me. With my shoes, at least I can watch where they put them and be reasonably sure I’ll get them back in a minute or two.