TSA should not overreact to attempted terrorism

A failed terrorist attack aboard an international flight heading for Detroit on Christmas Day set off a national security scare that will make airline travel a bigger hassle. The U.S. should not overreact by imposing such drastic regulations.

The fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who claims to have ties to al-Qaida, made it through airports with an explosive device in Nigeria and Amsterdam en route to the U.S. may be a national intelligence failure, but it should not be seen as an airport security failure.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has overreacted, focusing on the details of the attempt. This all to ensure that Abdulmutallab’s exact technique could not be replicated.

On some airlines since the attack, passengers weren’t allowed to stow anything under their seats or get up to use the bathroom during the last hour of the flight, according to the New York Times.

Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to detonate an explosive device sewed into his underwear during the last hour of the flight. But restricting movement during the last hour of flight may seriously inconvenience travelers and is clearly arbitrary. A terrorist attack could come at any point during a flight.

According to new TSA guidelines, flight crews may also ask passengers to stow personal items or turn off electronics more frequently. This isn’t the first time TSA guidelines have been tightened because of an attack.

In 2001, Englishman Richard Reid tried to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes while on an airplane, and now passengers everywhere must take off their shoes when going through security. After a liquid explosives plot was uncovered in 2006, the types and quantities of liquids allowed on planes were heavily restricted.

How far is the TSA willing to go? Certainly they can’t make passengers remove their underwear. Can they? Some people are calling for the next best thing.

Michael Chertoff, former homeland security secretary, said he wants imaging scanners to look at the entire body using radio waves or X-rays to reveal objects beneath people’s clothes, according to the Washington Post.

The Privacy Coalition, a privacy advocate, called the imaging a “virtual strip search.” The group has started a petition to stop this technology, which it says is “designed to capture, record and store detailed images of individuals undressed.”

Chertoff, however, considers it a necessary step.

“This plot is an example of something we’ve known could exist in theory, and in order to be able to detect it, you’ve got to find some way of detecting things in parts of the body that aren’t easy to get at,” Chertoff said to the Washington Post. “It’s either pat-downs or imaging, or otherwise hoping that bad guys haven’t figured it out, and I guess bad guys have figured it out.”

Chertoff should not put so much responsibility on airport security. U.S. intelligence agencies need to do more to stop potential terrorists before they buy plane tickets. After all, Abdulmutallab’s father warned the U.S. embassy in Nigeria that he was concerned about his son in November, according to The Associated Press.

Privacy and freedom should not be completely sacrificed for security, especially if those security measures are largely misguided.