Airport Security Study
A team at the Harvard School of Public Health could not find any studies showing whether the time-consuming process of X-raying carry-on luggage prevents hijackings or attacks.
They also found no evidence to suggest that making passengers take off their shoes and confiscating small items prevented any incidents.
The researchers said it would be interesting to apply medical standards to airport security. Screening programs for illnesses like cancer are usually not broadly instituted unless they have been shown to work.
Note the defense by the TSA:
“Even without clear evidence of the accuracy of testing, the Transportation Security Administration defended its measures by reporting that more than 13 million prohibited items were intercepted in one year,” the researchers added. “Most of these illegal items were lighters.”
This is where the TSA has it completely backwards. The goal isn’t to confiscate prohibited items. The goal is to prevent terrorism on airplanes. When the TSA confiscates millions of lighters from innocent people, that’s a security failure. The TSA is reacting to non-threats. The TSA is reacting to false alarms. Now you can argue that this level of failures is necessary to make people safer, but it’s certainly not evidence that people are safer.
For example, does anyone think that the TSA’s vigilance regarding pies is anything other than a joke?
Here’s the actual paper from the British Medical Journal:
Of course, we are not proposing that money spent on unconfirmed but politically comforting efforts to identify and seize water bottles and skin moisturisers should be diverted to research on cancer or malaria vaccines. But what would the National Screening Committee recommend on airport screening? Like mammography in the 1980s, or prostate specific antigen testing and computer tomography for detecting lung cancer more recently, we would like to open airport security screening to public and academic debate. Rigorously evaluating the current system is just the first step to building a future airport security programme that is more user friendly and cost effective, and that ultimately protects passengers from realistic threats.
I talked about airport security at length with Kip Hawley, the head of the TSA, here.