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Public Acceptance of New TSA Procedures Has Been Exaggerated

As usual, the mainstream media asks all the wrong questions.

by
Dan Miller

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November 21, 2010 - 12:00 am
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The public seems greatly confused by the new airport screening procedures and with good reason. However, a CBS survey was recently taken of 1,137 randomly selected people with landline or cell phones and it was concluded that:

Americans overwhelmingly approve of the use of full-body digital x-ray machines — a new technology in use at some airports in the U.S. Most, meanwhile, do not approve of racial or ethnic profiling — a practice not in place.

The sample size and selection methodology seem reasonable. However, the following questions apparently were not asked: “Have you or an immediate family member flown on a commercial airliner in the United States since November 1, 2010?” and “Do you or an immediate member of your family intend to fly on a commercial airliner in the United States in the near future? If not, have your plans been changed on account of recent changes in airport security procedures?” A breakout of the data as provided by the Yes and No respondents to these questions would have made the survey far more informative.

The report of the survey speaks of “two potentially inconvenient and invasive practices” at airports. However, the reported question asks only about the new “‘full body’ digital X-ray machines.” No question was reported about the second and certainly more invasive of the “two” techniques, presumably the “enhanced pat-downs.” If a question was asked about the latter, the results were not reported.

As to “profiling,” the question was whether it would be justified or unjustified for people of “certain racial or ethnic groups to be subject to additional security checks at airport checkpoints.” Again, questions about recent or anticipated travel by airline in the United States and cross tabulations of the responses under those categories would have made the survey report more useful. As to profiling based solely on race or ethnicity, to which the survey appears to relate, my answer would have fallen into the “not justified” category.

Had the question been about additional security checks based on perceived religion, race, ethnicity, age, and conduct which would appear to a reasonable observer trained in interpreting conduct, body language, and conversation to be “abnormal and suspicious,” my answer would have fallen into the “justified” category. Like it or not and quite independently of race and ethnicity, far more young Islamists than elderly Methodists have, during the twenty-first century, engaged in terrorist activity as encouraged by their religious leaders and teachings; those facts should be part of the mix to be considered, even though I guess it could be argued that since there have been no terrorist attacks involving airlines in recent years by elderly Methodists, TSA (Transportation Security Administration) procedures have functioned quite well.

There was another recent poll taken by Rasmussen on November 15 and 16. One of the questions asked was:

Some people say that there is a natural tension between protecting individual rights and national security. In the United States today, does our legal system worry too much about protecting individual rights, too much about protecting national security, or is the balance about right?

The results were that:

As the controversy over new airport body scanners escalates, voters feel more strongly than ever that the U.S. legal system is more protective of individual freedoms than it is of the nation’s overall security.

I would have found it impossible to provide a meaningful answer, since there is no way to know what “individual freedoms” were meant. Fourth Amendment prohibitions against highly invasive electronic and sometimes manual searches of one’s person without probable cause? “Discriminatory” enhanced security measures based on perceived religion, race, ethnicity, and suspiciously abnormal behavior as noted above or some combination of those factors? How about based on behavior comparable to that attributed to the flying imams in November of 2006?

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