The TSA: A (Minor?) Complaint

There is lots to be concerned about regarding the way the TSA is trampling on our constitutional rights.  So, my complaint here may seem minor within the context of all of the TSA’s activities.  But…

Last night I was on my way home to Tallahassee, flying through Atlanta, as I often do.  Prior to boarding the flight to Tallahassee, the TSA set up a table at the gate, and four TSA employees screened all passengers on the flight to check their IDs against their boarding passes.  And, they selected some passengers to have their carry-on items further screened.  (I was not one of the people selected for further screening.)  The gate agent announced that anyone refusing to be screened would not be allowed on the flight.

The flight from Atlanta to Tallahassee is a short one — 34 minutes of air time, according to the pilot’s announcement — and it would be rare indeed for someone to be just going from Atlanta to Tallahassee.  In all likelihood, all of the flight’s passengers were connecting from somewhere else, and the Atlanta-Tallahassee flight was the last leg of their trip.

This TSA screening irritated me for two reasons.

First, it is a waste of resources.  The flight was delayed half an hour or so for mechanical reasons, and four TSA agents hung around our gate for more than an hour waiting for boarding to begin, and then screening passengers who were boarding.  As I sat there watching them chat with each other while on the government’s payroll, I was wondering whether my tax dollars were paying for this, or whether it was just adding to the deficit, which would hasten the nation’s rush toward a Greek-style financial collapse.  We’re spending way too much money on things that don’t make us safer.

Everyone on my flight had already gone through screening to get into the airport to begin with, and almost certainly had already been on another flight.  If there was really a terrorist on that flight, would that terrorist have waited until the second leg of a multi-leg flight to engage in terrorism?  Would a terrorist really target a small regional jet on a 34 minute flight?  It makes no sense to screen passengers on that particular flight when other flights are departing from Atlanta to Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago, for example.

It is completely implausible that a terrorist could be on that flight, and a complete waste of resources to screen those passengers.

My second reason for irritation is more significant.  Our Constitution says, “The right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated… but upon probable cause…”  The TSA had already searched everyone on that flight once, so how could the TSA have probable cause that someone on that flight was a threat to security?  It’s harassment for the TSA to do this, but worse, it’s a violation of our constitutional rights.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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