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CLT Should KO TSA

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John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), this week defended recent moves by the agency to conduct more invasive security screenings at our nation’s airports. In particular he defended the controversial full-body scanners that can search for items under passengers’ clothing and the more-aggressive pat-downs that involve the touching of genitalia of passengers who opt-out of the full-body scans.

The debate has stimulated an age-old discussion on the tensions between liberty and security, as these two competing editorials indicate. Other rights have also come into focus, such as whether First Amendment religious rights trump these new TSA procedures or whether the procedures constitute a violation of Fourth Amendment search and seizure protections.

As important as these moral, legal and philosophical questions are, what is sometimes lost in this furor is that there are practical alternatives to current practices. The TSA would like you to think that the only alternative is to drive, or take trains or busses. However, as Rep. John Mica (R-FL), the likely next Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, pointed out today, airports can opt-out of using TSA for airport screening.  And they should.

Since the TSA was founded in 2001, the agency has grown to over 56,000 employees with an annual budget of over $8 billion.  Approximately 71% of that funding goes directly to aviation security at over 450 U.S. airports. One of the biggest complaints has been that the TSA engages in security theater rather than providing legitimate security. But the recent encroachment on civil liberties, religious beliefs and violation of search and seizure provisions has caused many to call for the replacement of TSA.

As of 2003, airports have been under no legal obligation to contract with TSA.  Now, due to an outcry by the public, it seems airports are weighing their options.  Just today, it was announced that Orlando’s Sanford International Airport is considering contracting with a private firm. Macon City Councilor and the Senior Editor at RedState.com has called for replacing TSA at the Georgia city’s airport.

In 2006, the Heritage Foundation encouraged policy makers to rethink airport security. Among their recommendations is that the TSA “get out of the screening business” instead certifying private security companies. Airlines and airports already have the monetary incentive to provide a safe travel experience for passengers, as Art Carden of Forbes argues. In addition, security companies who are forced to compete for lucrative contracts would seek to employ the best possible personnel, while developing new technology that protects that public and preserves their rights.

Some on the left have already started to push back on calls for airport screening privatization, pointing to failures by private firms before 9/11.  Yet, in this post-9/11 world, can we really do any worse than TSA perceptions of security, i.e. security theater, and the systematic treatment of all U.S. citizens as criminals? No. Therefore, we must seek reasonable alternatives. The most viable is for airports across the country to opt-out of the TSA and replace them with privately incentivized firms who are carefully and consistently evaluated.

Here in the greater Charlotte area, Charlotte-Douglas International Airport contracts with TSA and with it has come enhanced pat-downs and full-body scanners. To date, however, there have been no recent public comments from airport CEO Jerry Orr about TSA’s new procedures and the subsequent public response.

Area residents should contact Jerry Orr’s office and request public comment and insist that Charlotte Douglas International Airport takes the lead on respecting the rights the citizens it serves by opting out of TSA.  Orr can be reached at (704)-359-4000 and by e-mail at jorr@ci.charlotte.nc.us. In addition, citizens should contact Mayor Anthony Foxx and the Charlotte City Council and tell them that it is time to privatize Charlotte’s airport screening.

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