In recent months, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) introduced two nationwide passenger screening initiatives that have stirred public debate: advanced imaging technology (AIT) and physical pat downs. Understandably, a great deal of public fervor has arisen as more Americans begin experiencing these new security procedures for the first time.
Because AIT and pat downs involve physical screening, they necessarily implicate questions regarding privacy and propriety of the government intrusions, principles that serve as the foundation for the freedoms guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, we must closely monitor and review TSA’s programs to ensure the agency properly balances passenger security with personal freedom.
But as the public debate involving AIT and pat downs continues, the rhetoric directed towards TSA greatly disturbs me. As Americans, we cherish not only the freedom to be protected from unwarranted government intrusions, but many others, including the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. These freedoms are the bedrock of our nation, but they also represent the primary reasons we are subjected to the unpredictable and continuous threat of attack from al Qaeda and its sympathizers. Before vilifying TSA and its employees, let’s remember the agency’s mission is to protect Americans from the threats posed by terrorists.
We must also remember that TSA has legitimate, intelligence-based reasons for recently enhancing its screening measures. Covert testing from the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) and TSA indicate the need to develop and deploy better screening technology and pat down procedures. Moreover, the constantly evolving methods of al Qaeda, exemplified by the thwarted efforts of the Christmas Day underwear bomber and the recent air cargo threat, necessitate that our security responses be as dynamic as our enemies’. As a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, I appreciate the determination of TSA Director John Pistole, who came to the agency following a 27-year career in the FBI, to keep American security a step ahead of those who wish to do us harm.
The challenge is to strike a balance that ensures our security without compromising our rights as American citizens. Additionally, we must not allow our response to disproportionately interrupt our freedom of movement or we will simply provide terrorists the outcome they seek – disruption of the American way of life.
Accordingly, public debate involving TSA’s new measures is warranted, but must be conducted in a civil and appropriate manner. Critics of the programs must consider the recent CBS poll that found over 80% of Americans support the use of AIT technology at our nation’s airports. Proponents must not dismiss the objections of the flying public as unimportant and instead work to understand the concerns of American travelers. Congress must perform responsible oversight to make certain TSA adapts screening procedures and that any approved protocol is carried out by well-trained and professional security officers.
While critical national debate of these new procedures is reasonable, unwarranted attacks against the TSA and its security officers are not. As the busy holiday travel season begins, the American people must remember the men and women operating airport screening checkpoints are working to ensure every traveler arrives to their destination safely.