The PJ Tatler

My TSA Fourth Amendment Experience

I was about to fly out last week for my monthly business trip to California. While waiting in line to board the plane, an older woman in her TSA uniform walked by with her water-sensing gewgaw that is supposed to tell if your bottle of water is a bomb, or something like that.

As I handed over my boarding pass and prepared to enter the causeway, the TSA agent came up behind me and said “don’t move.” Taking her literally, I stopped moving, effectively blocking all the other passengers from boarding.

I had a bottle of water in my backpack, and she had spotted it. Here was her chance to pretend she’s making us more secure, or perhaps to throw her authority around.

After passing her high-tech sensor over my bottle like some sort of papal blessing, I continued on my way.

Here’s the problem: TSA security measures ban water from outside the secured area of the airport. I bought this water after passing security. To stop an entire plane from boarding in order to justify her job, she had to ignore this fact.

She also, like a good bureaucrat, avoided the potential source of the problem. To prevent explosive water, TSA should be spot-checking the vendors, instead of bothering law-abiding citizens, the low-hanging fruit.

But if they did this, many jobs would be lost, because it’s far more efficient to check a small number of vendors, rather than thousands of passengers. Therein lies the TSA’s true motive.