Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Editorial: Transportation Security Administration should keep planes safe, not make list of rude travelers

The Transportation Security Administration has one main job: To prevent an attack on a civilian airliner. The agency is not the manners police in the nation’s airports, and it has no business compiling a secret watch list of passengers who don’t behave in line. This abuse of authority is mission creep for an agency that needs to focus all its attention on security at the gate.

The New York Times reported this month that the agency had created a secret dossier to keep tabs on people whom officials reported to be potential threats at airport checkpoints. A five-page directive obtained by the Times said that those on the list would not necessarily have to pose a physical danger to airport security screeners. A TSA directive issued in March states that other contact or conduct that the agency found "offensive" could land travelers on the so-called "95 list," adding, "An intent to injure or cause physical pain is not required, nor is an actual physical injury." So anyone who raises concerns by loitering at the checkpoint or who is deemed as presenting "challenges" to safe and orderly screening could also be placed on the watch list.

A TSA deputy general counsel said the list, which had not been previously disclosed, is intended to protect security screeners from travelers who have been known to be unruly around the checkpoints, adding that the number of assaults on screeners had increased to 34 last year, up from 26 in 2016. A spokesman for the agency said TSA wanted "safeguards in place" to protect security officers "and others" from "any individual who has previously exhibited disruptive" behavior at a checkpoint "and is scheduled to fly." The list reportedly includes travelers who have had only minor disagreements with screeners, such as having argued with them.

This is a solution in search of a problem that violates due process and privacy rights while adding a further distraction to the TSA’s core duty. Airports are already policed by a layer of law enforcement personnel who are more than capable of detaining anyone for assaulting a security screener, posing a security threat or in any way interfering with airport operations. As a practical matter, the watch list provides no extra protection. It cannot on its own be used to deny passengers from boarding, or to require extra security screening. The directive might be a good way to flag rude, frequent fliers, but it falls short in doing anything to route genuine security threats from reaching a plane. With fewer than 50 people on the list, according to the TSA, this is hardly a security epidemic warranting a federal response. The guidelines would permit a form of profiling, and the watch list would be shared with other law enforcement agencies. The directive does not explain how people could appeal being included on the list.

Air travel is stressful enough without the TSA targeting rude behavior. If the agency wants to create a safer environment at checkpoints, fine. It can help by improving its own training and passenger screening process, deploying its limited resources more effectively and treating passengers with professionalism and respect. Compiling another watch list is merely a vehicle for harassing travelers and putting more under the government’s surveillance umbrella. Congress needs to demand more answers about a program that lacks any legitimate rationale and that will only distract screeners as they turn their attention from who and what is getting on a plane to conduct in the checkpoint line.

Original article can be found here ➤ http://www.tampabay.com

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