20 June 2012

TSA & Private Screeners

Schneier on Security: Rand Paul Takes on the TSA: Paul Rand has introduced legislation to rein in the TSA. There are two bills:
One bill would require that the mostly federalized program be turned over to private screeners and allow airports with -- Department of Homeland Security approval -- to select companies to handle the work.
This seems to be a result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the economic incentives involved here, combined with a magical thinking that a market solution solves all. In airport screening, the passenger isn't the customer. (Technically he is, but only indirectly.) The airline isn't even the customer. The customer is the U.S. government, who is in the grip of an irrational fear of terrorism.

It doesn't matter if an airport screener receives a paycheck signed by the Department of the Treasury or Private Airport Screening Services, Inc. As long as a terrorized government -- one that needs to be seen by voters as "tough on terror," wants to stop every terrorist attack regardless of the cost, and is willing to sacrifice all for the illusion of security -- gets to set the security standards, we're going to get TSA-style security.
I think Scheneier is partially right, but still missing something. Privitization would not solve the major problems with airport screening, but it would address a lot of the smaller ones.

For instance, the TSA can vandalize David Friedman's luggage in a way that private companies can not afford to do. (See also: Is TSA Vandalism Deliberate Policy?) Privitization won't much help if your objection is the scanning and x-rays and pat-downs and such. But if you're worried about things being stolen from luggage, screener incompetence, rudeness, spite, imperiousness, etc., then privatization will help. (Assuming, of course, that the airport has a profit motive to increase customer satisfaction.)

No comments:

Post a Comment