Tuesday, November 16, 2010

National Invasive Security Opt-Out Day

There seems to be some tailwind for the National Opt Out Day, which encourages airline travelers on Wednesday, Nov. 24 to decline to be 3-d scanned into the TSA's new security device and teleported into the 'clean' area of the airport. There seem to be both health and privacy concerns about the new scanning technology, which can probably determine if your nipple is erect.

I'm not a big fan of the security theater that is airline travel; American airline passengers are no safer than Israeli airline passengers, which uses a vastly different paradigm of airport security. I would, however, like to point out an additional feature to the National Opt-Out Day activism envisioned.

Apparently when you refuse to be visually inspected, you cannot get onto your flight without submitting to a "touch my junk" tactile inspection. My guess is that most people would acquiesce to the visual inspection when the choice is made explicit (ogling is preferable to fondling). However, if you refuse to choose either, airlines are likely to refund your non-refundable ticket without too much of a fuss. American Airlines doesn't want to be complicit in violations of your intimate privacy. If enough people truly opt-out of the invasive security choice of ogle/fondle by asking to have their tickets refunded, that will send a much stronger signal in favor of abolition of that choice. The airlines cannot afford to have 5% of their passengers drop out of reserved flights on the day of due to passenger discomfort with TSA demands. An enterprising group of libertarians might organize an entire flight to pursue this strategy, which would certainly raise airline eyebrows if 40% of a plane went from being booked to empty on the day of the flight. Air carriers also have much better leverage over the TSA than individual citizens do.

The broader lesson here is that when dealing with administrative agencies, it helps to have power on your side. In most cases in America, the most readily available source of power is to leverage corporations against the government. So instead of demanding a pat-down, demand that security procedures be minimally invasive. When you are not allowed to proceed to your gate, take your complaint to the ticket desk. The carrier will take your complaint to the decision-makers in the TSA and Congress.

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