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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Travelers Debunk Narrative on Airport Security

Our new findings on air travelers' views on the much-discussed screening procedures now in broader use in U.S. airports are the perfect example of why it's so critical to seek out empirical evidence on the issues of the moment.

While news about air travelers opposing and potentially boycotting the use of full-body scans and pat downs suggests there is widespread anger about the use of these procedures, our survey of 3,018 people -- including 757 people who have flown at least twice in the past year -- tell a different story.

Fewer than one in three frequent air travelers tell us they are angry about the prospect or reality of being asked to follow these procedures. About one in four are bothered but not angry -- and a plurality are not bothered at all.

What's more, those who've already undergone these screenings are even less likely to be bothered than those who have not. Overall, most travelers say any loss of personal privacy is worth it to prevent acts of terrorism and the vast majority remain as likely to fly as they otherwise would be.

This is not to discount the minorities who are in fact angry or bothered by the use of these tactics, or less likely to fly as a result, but the data underscore the inherent risk in portraying the voices of relatively few as the voices of the many. Journalists are encouraged to tell both sides of every story, but only with nationally representative empirical evidence can we tell how many people each side represents.

In this case, it's clear that, while most of us will agree it is not an ideal situation, at the same time it is not all that upsetting to those most likely to encounter it.

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tritisan said...
November 23, 2010 at 7:23 PM  

I welcome this level-headed response to the latest media headlines. But as someone who feels that the TSA has crossed a line with their newly "enhanced" procedures, I feel I must comment as a minority voice. Because I fear that this time next year, there's going to be a similar poll to gauge how the public feels about random strip and cavity searches, and 2/3 of us will just fine with this "as long as it increases safety." This scenario is not so far-fetched, unfortunately.

Over the last decade, we've gradually grown accustomed to the inconveniences associated with airport security procedures. The problem is that the TSA seems always to be reacting to the last terrorist "innovation", like hiding explosives in shoes, so they adapt to take that one scenario into account. But there's a glaringly obvious problem: The terrorists will always find a new way to outsmart the system. And in each of the precedent-setting terrorist attempts, it was NOT the TSA, but rather other passengers or government intelligence that foiled the plots.

So now that there are going to be full body scans and/or pat-downs that can detect almost any hidden article ON a person's body. But not IN a person's body. It doesn't take a devious mind to come up with an obvious work-around.

Hopefully this scenario will never play out; but, if it does, then the TSA will be forced to somehow deal with this new paradigm. Perhaps full body X-rays that can image internal organs? Or more likely, a very, very intimate and uncomfortable encounter with a rubber-gloved agent. I for one don't relish the idea of myself or my family being treated like prisoners whenever we travel. Do you?

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