The costs and benefits of airport security

The costs and benefits of airport security
Monday, November 29, 2010; 9:13 PM

Ruth Marcus [“Don’t touch my junk? Grow up, America,
op-ed, Nov. 24] argued with respect to airline security that the “marginal invasion of privacy is small relative to the potential benefit of averting a terrorist attack.” But it is precisely on cost-benefit grounds that the “grope and scan” regime fails.
The costs are enormous. We pay for machines, TSA agents (Thousands Standing Around), and the wasted time of millions of travelers. There is also the psychological cost the humiliating process inflicts on innocent Americans, and the damage it inflicts on our society to condition citizens to accept the grossest violations of their privacy. Meanwhile, the benefits are zero: The TSA has yet to catch a single bona fide terrorist at the gate or avert a single attack. On cost-benefit grounds, we would be better off abandoning “grope and scan” and relying on alert passengers to thwart attacks, just as they stopped “shoe bomber” Richard Reid and “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
It is ironic that so many who say we should gladly accept the wholesale violation of our Fourth Amendment rights also reject profiling as unconstitutional and unfair. If I have to allow the government to grope me, the outcries of certain groups over the unfairness of profiling leave me unmoved.
James Perry, McLean
Jeffrey Rosen tried to depict his jeremiad against full-body scans [Outlook, Nov. 28] as a protest against what he calls the unconstitutionality of the process, but he made telling comments that suggested he was just dredging up the tired puritanical gripes that have plagued our country for centuries. He called the scans “intrusive” and compared them to strip searches, a parallel that defies logic. Even more telling was his statement that the scans “reveal a great deal of innocent but embarrassing information.”
Exactly what embarrassing information was he referring to? Even elementary school children know that women have breasts and men have penises. Is that embarrassing? And even if some people find it embarrassing, it’s not as though the images are going to be posted on the Internet or displayed on billboards with names and addresses.
Most important, however, was Mr. Rosen’s final statement, which shot down his entire argument. He quoted Louis Brandeis as saying that the “the most comprehensive of rights” is “the right to be let alone.” But when I’m on a packed jet with 400 other people, I’m not alone. Neither are my fellow passengers. And if we have to go through body scans to help ensure our safety, I’ll happily submit for the greater good.


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