Poll: Americans Like the TSA

Gallup has the results:

Despite recent negative press, a majority of Americans, 54%, think the U.S. Transportation Security Administration is doing either an excellent or a good job of handling security screening at airports. At the same time, 41% think TSA screening procedures are extremely or very effective at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes, with most of the rest saying they are somewhat effective.

My first reaction was that people who don’t fly—and don’t interact with the TSA—are more likely to believe it is doing a good job. That’s not true.

Just over half of Americans report having flown at least once in the past year. These fliers have a slightly better opinion of the job TSA is doing than those who haven’t flown. Fifty-seven percent of those who have flown at least once and 57% of the smaller group who have flown at least three times have an excellent or good opinion of the TSA’s job performance. That compares with 52% of those who have not flown in the past year.

There is little difference in opinions about the effectiveness of TSA’s screening procedures by flying status; between 40% and 42% of non-fliers, as well as of those who have flown at least once and those who have flown at least three times, believe the procedures are at least very effective.


Younger Americans have significantly more positive opinions of the TSA than those who are older. These differences may partly reflect substantial differences in flying frequency, with 60% of 18- to 29-year-olds reporting having flown within the last year, compared with 33% of those 65 years and older.

Anyone want to try to explain these numbers?

Posted on August 22, 2012 at 6:09 AM143 Comments


Patrick H. Lauke August 22, 2012 6:23 AM

Stockholm syndrome? Having it hammered into their psyche that it’s a necessary hassle, and that under those circumstances the TSA is doing its best – and that without them there’d be planes blowing up all the time?

Bruce August 22, 2012 6:30 AM

The figures surely confirm your opinion, that TSA’s actions are effective security theatre?

They don’t really give any information (positive or negative) about whether the TSA is doing a good job at protecting air travel.

kashmarek August 22, 2012 6:30 AM

FUD. I think almost any survey can be evaluated to show what one wants it to show. One needs to get a good assessment of the survey BEFORE knowing any of the results, to determine what the survey (or poll) is attempting to accomplish. Besides, anything around the 50% mark still show a lot of disapproval and the poll fails to identify value or areas needing improvement.

Mike B August 22, 2012 6:31 AM

Maybe there’s a difference in people’s perception between the TSA and its employees and the jobs they have to do. If the TSA is only “following orders” and doing the best it can then it isn’t the TSA’s fault and to be fair the TSA does a pretty good job in that regard. Many people might assume that the TSA is only following laws set by congress or the executive branch.

Topher August 22, 2012 6:32 AM

Sure: if people respond that the TSA is not doing its job well, the TSA will try to “improve”, and we all know what that means.

Reader August 22, 2012 6:33 AM

Probably most people have a trouble free experience, don’t know/care about the outliers and the absence of terror attacks means to them that the measures are a necessary evil and also effective.

Dave August 22, 2012 6:35 AM

Perception is reality? The minimum wage TSA agents look busy, competent, and authoritative; the average person isn’t going to try looking behind the security theater curtain as long as they feel safe.

Algol August 22, 2012 6:37 AM

The average person might not spend the same time/effort pondering about security trade-offs, civil liberties, etc. Most of them might use 9/11 as the reference point to judge TSA’s performance.

“TSA is there to prevent 9/11 like attacks; there have not been any such attacks, therefore their job looks good”

It also looks like there were other questions on the full poll. Context, wording etc has an impact on how people respond.

I wish they would have called me 🙂

Alan August 22, 2012 6:39 AM

I don’t think this is so positive. A majority of people think the TSA is not so effective. Gallup also failed to ask the big question: is it worth all the trouble, or would people prefer a different solution? I suspect a large majority would say it’s not worth it: even if they think the TSA is effective, I’d bet they can imagine a simpler, more effective process.

Maxim August 22, 2012 6:44 AM

There is an old joke from the Soviet era:
“Why do we like Lenin? Because he played football with the children, when instead he could just have had them executed.”

Most people bear with the body scanners, shoe sniffers, and since there hasn’t been any major terrorist incident, they feel that everything is well done.

vwm August 22, 2012 6:47 AM

Confirmation Bias: People who don’t fly mainly learn about TSA when something went wrong, (i.e. People are humiliated, cakes confiscated, guns missed etc.), so they tend to get a worse-than-reality picture.

People who fly learn about the horrible stories, as well, but most of them never experienced anything serious (besides waiting in long queues and surrendering bottled water) in direct interaction with TSA. So the picture is more balanced.

John W August 22, 2012 6:48 AM

Looking at the breakdown, almost all answers are in the mildly positive or neutral zone, essentially making them very non-commital. It does mean that people are basically ignoring them or not really caring.

Summarizing the results: “Yeah, those guys. I guess they are all right but I never really thought about it”

vwm August 22, 2012 6:54 AM

The young folk is used to TSA: a significant share never experienced the more comfortable pre-9-11-security.

It’s been more then 10 years, after all.

Lisa August 22, 2012 6:59 AM

The majority of people in many countries, including the USA, are ignorant sleep, that often vote against their own self interest.

A clear example is that people seem to accept that a 2 billion dollar presidential election, which is mostly being funded by big multinational corporations purely out of the goodness of their hearts without any risk of corruption, makes sense, as long as it isn’t socialism.

Mark August 22, 2012 7:05 AM


I think you hit the nail on the head. I still remember being allowed to take my swiss army knife on the plane, and I really hate the TSA’s guts. I’ve also gotta second Algols comment.

jonc August 22, 2012 7:07 AM

I suspect most people see the job of the TSA as being to deter terrorists, not to catch them at the airport. From that perspective, the TSA won’t be judged based on the behavior of agents at the security line. Whether TSA at airports actually does deter terrorists is not going to be a factor in that perception.

I fly every few months. My problem is not with TSA agents, but with long lines at security and general “OMG! I’ll miss my flight!” obnoxious panic that infects many passengers. More TSA agents, more queues, more politeness would help.

Alec August 22, 2012 7:11 AM

Thinking now about the TSA, the government agency that handles security screening at U.S. airports, do you think the TSA is doing an excellent, good, only fair or poor job?

The survey doesn’t appear to ask whether people like the TSA. It asks whether people think they’re doing a “good job”. When I’ve been polled in the past, the interviewers have always been careful not to interpret the question for me. (I was once asked whether I felt that a brand of blue jeans were ‘genuine’. I attempted to get the interviewer to explain to me what that could possibly mean, and he both refused to explain and still wanted an answer). The question could mean “how effective is the TSA at preventing terrorist attacks” (which is actually the next question in the survey), “how professional and courteous do you find airport screeners”, “how well do you feel the TSA’s screening procedures satisfy its mandate to thwart terrorist attacks”, etc. I’m not sure most people parse such questions as much as I do, but I would be surprised if the results weren’t actually the aggregate of at least 4 different interpretations of the question. As a sympathetic reader of this blog who flies 3 or 4 times a year, I have found the TSA employees I’ve dealt with to be largely professional and diligent. I wouldn’t say they’d been doing a bad job, even though I don’t think the job they’re doing is particularly effective.

As to the question about the effectiveness of the TSA in preventing terrorist attacks, the logically faulty but oft repeated (and likely highly focus grouped) assertion that “we haven’t had any successful plane hijackings since 9/11, so we must be doing something right” must be motivating to enough people to make politicians believe it’s worth saying. If you bought this argument, how effective would you rate the TSA as being?

Lastly, it appears that today’s xkcd might posit a viable theory as well.

Jimmy August 22, 2012 7:13 AM

I read stories like this and sometimes think maybe I should just take the blue pill and stop worrying about this after all…

Jeff H August 22, 2012 7:22 AM

Given the stated sample size (1014 people) and the stated margins of error (~4 percentage points for national, 5 percentage points for fliers), I’m not convinced that this poll is that informative, or necessarily statistically significant in a population of millions (many of which fly).

The stated 41% that believe the TSA is effective could as easily be 33% or 49%.

Gordon August 22, 2012 7:27 AM

As a couple others mention, one of the things I suspect is going on here is that the questions asked are purely around the effectiveness of the TSA (which most probably take as a proxy for the government/airlines/etc. more broadly) in preventing terrorism. Nothing about whether they could be equally effective while causing people a whole lot less hassle and unpleasant experiences. Given that framing, most would hesitate to state that “the TSA has been ineffective” given a lack of terrorist attacks.

Saul August 22, 2012 7:29 AM

The poll asked the wrong questions.

«How effective do you think the TSA’s screening procedures are at preventing acts of terrorism on U.S. airplanes – extremely effective, very effective, somewhat effective, not too effective or not effective at all?»

There have been no successful attacks on planes since the TSA was formed, so yes, by tautology, its procedures have been effective. Just as I can say that daily prayers for safe flights have been effective, or that my pet rock has been effective at keeping planes safe.

The better question would have been: “Would you feel safe flying if the security checkpoints were like those pre-TSA, with just metal detectors and bag x-rays? If not, do you feel that the changes the TSA brought to the checkpoints have thwarted attacks that otherwise would have been perpetrated?”

But that’s a lot of words for a phone survey, and requires some, well, thought.

Hugo August 22, 2012 7:30 AM

When people say that they think the TSA is doing a good job, it’s not that they actually believe it’s true. It’s what they want to be true.

They speak from the heart, not from the mind.

James Vasile August 22, 2012 7:39 AM

If you read the poll questions in a certain way, those numbers might be reasonable:

TSA acts to prevent airplane terrorism. Since TSA began, no US planes have been destroyed or taken over by terrorists. They are having effective results and so they are effective in fact, even if their strategy is awful and their contribution small. It’s certainly true that if we replaced TSA with no screening at all, we’d see more downed planes. So they’re effective, even if we could replace them with something better.

And TSA is doing a good job. Not the best they could, but a good job. Screening that many people, even poorly, is a logistical and human resources nightmare. And they mostly get it done with relatively few problems. Sure, there are horror stories, and TSA should own those, but a lot of TSA folks I talk to are genuinely doing their best and are somewhat effective at preventing a narrow list of threats (both real and imagined).

I’m a frequent flyer and a critic of TSA. I personally wouldn’t give TSA high marks, but I can understand the point of view that essentially says “It’s a super hard job and maybe they’ve gotten lucky, but all our planes stay up and I always get through security without missing my plane.”

Hugo August 22, 2012 7:40 AM

An addition to my previous message: the american people could see the TSA as being a part of the american war on terrorism. Saying the TSA is doing a bad job is like saying that america is wrong in their battle against terrorism. It an ‘us against them’ and us includes ‘me’. And ‘me’ can’t be wrong (typical human behaviour), so ‘us’ is also not wrong. Therefor the TSA must be doing a good job.

Saul August 22, 2012 7:45 AM

It’s certainly true that if we replaced TSA with
no screening at all, we’d see more downed planes.

James, nonsense, unless you know for sure something the rest of us don’t.

And, besides, the choice isn’t between the TSA and no screening at all. It’s between the TSA and sensible screening, such as a return to the days of metal detectors and bag x-rays: no shoe removals; no liquids restrictions; no friskings.

The attacks that led to the TSA were never about a breach of airport checkpoints in the first place. Yet the TSA has ballooned into an $8 billion-per-year goliath.

Steve K August 22, 2012 7:50 AM

It is sometimes very difficult, even for those trained in the arts, to detect the difference between correlation and causation.

For the average person (that is, those who don’t pay much attention to blogs like this and the subject matter we cover) the correlation between no new airplane attacks and TSA’s job performance seems like and equates to causation.

SteveB August 22, 2012 7:54 AM

Looking at the “full results”, I see that the 3 questions asked were part of a much larger survey, and that they were questions 36-38 in that survey.

I wondered how much influence the preceeding questions in a survey affect the answers

I had a quick look at the front page on gallup.com and there are other results published today that seem to be from the exact same survey, e.g. one on “no child left behind”, which from the ID numbers and dates on the full results seem to be the same, and form questions 25 and 26.

I guess that if there were questions that worried me and directly affected me, and then some questions on things that didn’t directly affect me, I might end up answering more postively in a “yeah , in context that’s not so bad” kind of way…

I wonder if it’s worth the bother of searching out the other results and reconstructing the entire survey (I’m guessing that Gallup don’t make the whole thing available, but maybe I’m wrong) to see if preceeding questions might impart significant bias?

Of course, we’re all guilty of confirmation bias – we’re seeing a result that we disagree with, so we’re looking for reasons why its “wrong” 🙂

Clive Robinson August 22, 2012 8:03 AM

The thing about polls is generaly only “nice people” do them.

I’ve made the mistake about “being nice” in the past and even street corner polls take to long and if you are busy you quickly get the “how can I get out of here feeling”.

Worse some actually ask for proof of ID these days up front…

So the people who do these polls are generaly unrepresentative of anything other than “nice people” who are often (in the UK) “WMCF’s” (White Middle Class Females). WMC people might not show much bias from the statistical norm for comparing breakfast cereals, but in other more discerning areas such as “being satisfied with policing” etc they are likely to be well off norm.

Further it is known that peoples “independent thought” on questions goes down rapidly after just one or two questions and they tend to fall into pattern of answering based not just on the current question but the couple before.

Finaly older people are aware of “milk writing on voting papers” used by represive regimes to find how individuals voted.

If you first make a note of a persons details and they are a “dependent flyer” that is if they are effectivly dependent on flying to keep their wage standard / employment then you ask them a bunch of questions about the TSA what do you think their responses are going to be…

There are many many ways to “rig the results” even on supposadly “independent polls” so I generaly treat them all with suspicion unless I get to see all the questions and procedures put in place and which “ethics body” approved them.

Because of where I live “England’s Happiest Borough” that is also “middle of the road politicaly” and importantly a major regional shopping area that is very largely affluent WMC you get more “pollsters” than you do “chuggers” (Charrity Muggers) on the streets and they have become a plague. Interestingly they always pick the same pitches, a couple of which are easily visable from coffee shops you can watch and see just how biased they are about who they approach to ask questions (yep they profile racialy etc etc).

So I’ve developed a simple stratagem of dealing with them if they make the mistake of asking me these days, I simply ask them immediatly “How much are you paying for my valuable opinions?”

They generaly look sufficiently surprised that I escape without having to say “Go Bother Somebody Who’s Life is that dull they can waste it on your questionnaire”.

Scott McCoy August 22, 2012 8:06 AM

Perhaps people are used to equating inconvinience with security measures. If so, TSA is very effective.

Wintermute August 22, 2012 8:07 AM

I seem to recall a great analysis of the report on another website – techdirt.com, maybe? – that broke the results down. Basically, there were two questions asked, with one of them being about the “effectiveness” of the TSA. When you consider that a sternly-worded sign at all checkpoints would be at least somewhat effective in keeping prohibited items off of planes, it casts the results in a new light.

ruz August 22, 2012 8:13 AM

Well, the survey was not weighing differing options here. And few, if any, people will believe that doing nothing is a valuable. So, given the questions, I am sure the frame of mind that most people answering the survey is TSA versus unknown. So, most people answer in the middle and you get the nice bell-curve distribution that just shows people answered a survey and nothing more.

D0R August 22, 2012 8:15 AM

Just as I can say that daily prayers for safe flights have been effective, or that my pet rock has been effective at keeping planes safe.

Saul, I want to buy your rock.

Andrew August 22, 2012 8:16 AM

I wonder how many of the respondents have anything to compare the TSA to? Have they flown to Europe? Asia? The Middle East? Very different airport security schemes, often developed over decades of dealing with terrorists, not just as a knee-jerk reaction to a single large incident.

The other places seem to do at least as good a job (no hijackings) as we do, and in a far less intrusive and humiliating manner. I never feel like a head of cattle going through checkpoints in Europe or Asia. Just courteous professionals who take pride in their job and perform it as professionals, not as robots checking off a list.

ben August 22, 2012 8:19 AM

I agree that the reason the youth skews positive is primarily habituation: they (we) grew up flying with the current nonsense as the norm. Having a miserable experience is what flying is, and most people flying in this country aren’t reading security blogs…

Richar August 22, 2012 8:27 AM

I’d love to know how many people who currently think TSA is doing a good job also voted for George W. Bush in 2004 (his second term).

There was a lot of irrational fear drummed up after 9/11 and the context in which TSA was formed was highly politicized.

If you asked members of Congress the same questions my guess is you’ve have even more support for TSA, less because they think TSA does good, but because they’re scared to be the ones responsible for making a change. Even Obama would be scared enough to make a change at this point, for fear something terrible happens that would be pinned to him.

The question needs to be reformed so that it’s more nuanced but as many have said, many Americans don’t get nuance (or much else it seems).

Paul August 22, 2012 8:28 AM

As Saul alluded to, if you’re asking people to rate the TSA on security then the obvious way to do that is to simply take into account how many planes have fallen out of the sky recently – since none have then the TSA must be doing a good job!
It’s obviously not a good metric, but that’s what you get when you ask questions of random people on the street.

alanm August 22, 2012 8:28 AM

Anyone past their early twenties today probably doesn’t remember much about flying without the TSA! And people that fly once a year find the whole process unusual; the TSA-rape is just another unusual thing for them.

The meaningful population to sample for opinions would be the business travelers; they experience the system far more frequently and the fund most of the airline industry.

SadButMadLad August 22, 2012 8:30 AM

How to explain the numbers? Easy! What were the questions.

Surveys always use leading questions. The whole point of a survey is to confirm that initial opinion of the survey requester.

Courtney Schwartz August 22, 2012 8:33 AM

Psychologists know that, if a person is not polarized against at the outset, and barring any strongly negative experience during additional exposure, familiarity causes you to become more positively predisposed, and less critical.

Also, when you shock an animal repeatedly but it can’t get out, it stops trying to escape.

Scot August 22, 2012 8:36 AM

But, generally, TSA DOES do a pretty good job of their underlying mission of security theater. As somebody who flies a lot, they ARE generally pleasant and professional, even when I carry a bag full of electronic gear and demand a hand frisk every time. Just because the underlying mission is silly doesn’t mean that they are not doing it well- like Alec and James said, it’s a complete logistical nightmare to manage.

Cameron Shelley August 22, 2012 8:48 AM

The theory of cognitive dissonance explains how aversive experiences can sometimes lead to greater – not lesser – appraisal of the cause. Festinger’s original example was doomsday cults: After the predicted doomsday came and went without incident, cult members actually tended to increase their appraisal of and attachment to the cult. They did this to defend their positive view of themselves, as if reasoning as follows: Either the prediction was wrong and I was a fool to believe it, or the prediction was right but something happened to alter the situation; since I’m not the sort who is easily fooled, something else must have happened. Perhaps God heard the prayers of the cult and changed His mind.

People subjected to invasive security might react similarly: Either the security is ineffective and I allowed myself to be annoyed and humiliated for nothing, or it actually deterred terrorists from bombing my flight; since I’m not the sort to allow myself to be annoyed and humiliated for nothing, the terrorists must have been deterred by it. That is, the security works.

Undoubtedly, this could not be the whole story, but the need to defend their positive self-image in the face of negative experiences can have a powerful effect on people’s appraisal of external circumstances.

Matt August 22, 2012 8:55 AM

The survey was done with a pretty small sample – only 1014 people. It seems like this would be more of a significant result if there had been a larger number of people surveyed.

That being said, the result does seem to indicate that the PR and theatre put on by the TSA is effective in convincing, at least some of the people most of the time, that they’re doing a good job.

Jeff Craig August 22, 2012 9:03 AM

50% still isn’t a good approval rating, but there are large demographic differences that appear to be being ignored.

From what I’m told, at JSConf in Arizona this last year, basically every single attendee was flying out on the same day, and they ALL opted out, effectively running a denial-of-service attack on the TSA. I don’t remember off hand if the solution was to drop back to the ‘less secure’ metal detectors instead of backscatter x-ray or pat downs.

nikko August 22, 2012 9:04 AM

One possible reason for younger folks having a more positive opinion would be that the majority of the 18-29 year old block probably has little-to-no pre-9/11 flying experience.

Just about everyone in that group would have been in high school or younger at the time TSA came into it’s own.

opy August 22, 2012 9:05 AM

prankster at Gallup trolling the security community?

People probably just don’t care and rank “satisfactory” when they have no opinion. They should try to measure the level of apathy with these types of surveys along with the actual target of information.

Gordon August 22, 2012 9:10 AM

The younger generation has not only no pre-9/11 flying experience, they have never experience with flying in the presence of terrorism.

When the IRA or the Red Army Faction were waging their campaigns in Britain or Germany the one thing that one did not encounter at airports was the TSA ballsack gropers.

Stephen August 22, 2012 9:12 AM

I never had an issue with them because Frankly I follow the rules. Do I like them hell no. AS long as I know the luggage and the ground workers have not been checked as closely as I have I know its all just bullshit. But what are you going to do, if you want to fly your are screwed. Even if you have your plane you go through some of this same crap. Let’s face it, until we the people demand change it not going to happen. it started as a 9/11 reaction, and it’s time to stop this nonsense. I have listened as our same lawmakers bitch about it an nothing happens, sad is it not?

Saul August 22, 2012 9:13 AM

they have never experience with flying in the presence of terrorism.


Are you trying to say that no plane was ever attacked prior to 9/11/2001?

Seth August 22, 2012 9:15 AM

I’d like to see the correlation between how often people fly and what they think of the TSA. I can well believe that people who fly once a year think much better of it than people who fly (and experience it) much more often.

Jeff August 22, 2012 9:18 AM

I think everyone is forgetting the effect of change. Over the last few years, the TSA has gotten a lot more efficient (at least in my experience flying 2 or 3 times a year). So now we all feel better about them compared to ten years ago. The old feelings of how stupid and pointless the whole thing is have faded. I’m sure a similar survey in 1938 would show 54% of Soviet citizens felt the gov was doing a ‘good job’ fostering economic growth.

Greg Linden August 22, 2012 9:26 AM

As others have commented, the results almost certainly reflect the question asked.

The question asked is “do you think the TSA is doing an excellent, good, only fair, or poor job?” That phrasing of “only fair” rather than “acceptable” or “fair” or “average” probably pushed more people to pop up to “good” when answering (as “only fair” sounds negative and below average, so they went back up to the first thing that means “okay” or “average”, which would be “good”).

You can see that probably was the case in the second question asked. Only 41% think the TSA is better than “somewhat effective”.

So, the result to the first question is probably due to the phrasing “only fair”. And the approval rating of the TSA more accurately would be described as about 40%, more negative than positive, not what the headline said.

Paul August 22, 2012 9:45 AM

I agree with some of the others, namely:

  1. Many younger people don’t have the pre-TSA experience to refer to, so today’s situation seems normal.
  2. Maybe more importantly, I’d suggest that the majority of Americans are simply terribly underinformed about these issues. They assume, “there have been no successful airport related terrorist attacks since 2001, so the TSA must be doing a good job.” That there were also no successful airport related terrorist attacks in the 10 years prior to the TSA and its policies being called into existence is not taken into consideration.

Spaceman Spiff August 22, 2012 9:48 AM

This just goes to show that with enough agitprop, you can fool most of the people most of the time… 🙁

Adam August 22, 2012 9:53 AM

What Saul said is spot on. Gallup didn’t ask “Is the TSA too invasive?” “When you fly, do you alter your behavior because you fear the TSA person” or “Do you fly less because of the TSA?”

Bob August 22, 2012 9:57 AM

Gallup could have completely fabricated the data for the right price…. . And we all know Big Sis is willing to waste plenty of our tax money in order to protect her precious TSA.

Alex August 22, 2012 9:58 AM

I think if you think about the questions from the view of an average American, this is not too surprising. This isn’t me claiming that the TSA is efficient or overreaching in terms of constitutional rights, just that it isn’t surprising that most people are less het up about it than commentators here.

For the “good/bad job” question you have a number of factors influencing this view:
– provided you don’t have a negative mindset going into the process (e.g “perv scanners”, “touching my junk” or concerns about radiation from the backscatter machines), by and large the experience is painless. As a young-ish white male, I don’t feel particularly threatened by the process and have few concerns that anyone would care what I look like as a naked black and white ghost image let alone chose to post it on the internet
– most of middle America does’t have a particularly problem with authority, if stopped by a cop they will politely answer questions and interact with them. The people who shout about their constitutional rights or would refuse to interact with police without a lawyer present may well be correct, but they are atypical
– as someone who flys >100k miles per year, the TSA checkpoints have become more efficient than the days immediately after the LHR liquid bomb plots, this will provide some positive outcome in these numbers
– most flyers will not have a clear recollection of what it was like pre-9/11 nor how screening is conducted elsewhere. Even for those who do have this experience (I am one) the differences are not so overwhelming that it will make much more than a small difference
– screening makes people feel safer; this might be theatre, but it will show up in the numbers
– given how inefficient everything else is in airports, TSA doesn’t stand out as being particularly egregious (e.g. immigration, customs, checkin)

As for the “effective” question, for some value of effective, TSA is a success. There have been no successful attacks post-9/11 so there couldn’t have been fewer if TSA hadn’t existed. In most people’s mind this is the question that was being asked and therefore the results are unsurprising.

The real question here is efficiency, is TSA efficient at stopping attacks (either in money or in rights abridged)? My view is that as TSA is mostly security theatre the answer is no, but that wasn’t what the question asked. It would be effective for me to use a helicopter to go from my apartment building to the market 4 blocks away, it just wouldn’t be efficient.

Niels August 22, 2012 9:59 AM

“Anyone want to try to explain these numbers?”

Many people believe that when nothing happens that proves that TSA or counterparts in other countries did a good job. An alternate explanation is more simple: Nothing happened.

If there’s no terror attack over a number of years, does that indicate that the security services are doing a good job in preventing an attack, or does it indicate that there was no real terror threat in the first place.

Due to the hype of the war on terrorism, people simply do not know the difference, and politicians always claim that an absense of terror is due to counterterrorism efforts.

I think there’s a lot of difference in the perception people have, and the real situation.

Alex August 22, 2012 10:11 AM


Living in NY, the Amtrak situation here is unusual and I would suspect more around timing and cost than a particular not being “groped/perv scanned” as some commentators here seem to think.

Delays on Amtrak are fewer than for planes in the the thunderstorm prone NYC area, security takes longer at the airports and traffic to the airport is more variable (and public transit to the airports is still poor). I travel to Boston and DC fairly regularly and from where I live it’s fairly even on whether the plane or train is more effective, if I’m going downtown to downtown it’s a no brainer, but from outskirts to outskirts plane is often easier.

Moe August 22, 2012 10:13 AM

“People can come up with statistics to prove anything. Forty percent of people know that!” -Homer Simpson

NobodySpecial August 22, 2012 10:14 AM

People need to feel secured/protected, the TSA is very visible, there hasn’t been another 9-11, so they must be doing a good job!

It’s like the USSR Mayday parades where you take all your missiles and armour out of the field and wear it out driving it to Moscow. If you ask a general if it makes the state better protected and ask someone in the crowd and you will get a different answer

Chris Gomez August 22, 2012 10:16 AM

Before chalking it up to mass psychosis, I think generally people aren’t trained or understand security tradeoffs. Seeing a security guard makes them feel safer, and despite the long odds, no one wants to be on a plane that is hijacked or otherwise harmed.

A quote I can take verbatim from people who are otherwise very intelligent and well-thinking is: “Well, whatever it takes to keep us safe.” As if someone at the TSA is smarter about security than they are.

It’s not even that there aren’t any folks whatsoever who aren’t smart about security at the TSA. It’s that they are being ordered not to make security tradeoffs by elected officials.

NO ONE wants to be the President or Congressman who presided over another air-based attack. Our witch-hunt society would blame them merely for it occurring “on their watch” without first making sure blame makes sense.

Captain Obvious August 22, 2012 10:27 AM

Stockholm syndrome is right. It’s been too long for people to remember when flying was easy and pleasant.

That disneyland style security line that takes up half the airport? Didn’t exist.

It used to be getting checked in was the hard part, then you just walked through the metal detector and straight to the gate. If we could go back to that for just one day, then redo the poll, the results would be different.

Andy August 22, 2012 10:28 AM

Who commissioned the poll? There were only 3 questions numbered 36-38. Who has patience to listen through interviewer’s questions? I don’t know how representative I am but I know I don’t have time for that.

Harvey MacDonald August 22, 2012 10:36 AM

A statistics professor once asked me: “Have you ever, ever done a survey?”

I stammered for a bit, then admitted, “Nope.”

“Why not?” He asked.

“I guess I’m too busy going to work and school.” I replied.

“Who do you think has time to complete those surveys then?” He replied.

I never did answer him, the “Oh!” of comprehension was obvious.

bcs August 22, 2012 10:50 AM

The TSA’s job is to have there not be successful terrorist attacks on airplanes. At this they are doing very well.

There job is not to catch terrorists attempting to attack an airplane. This is a good thing as they have failed utterly at this and (if everyone else does there job right) it is in fact be impossible to do as there will be no terrorists to catch.

On a more rational note: the fact that “Younger Americans have significantly more positive opinions” indicates that we have succeeded in training the next generation that the Fourth Amendment is a nice idea, but isn’t really important or anything.

Anonymous Duck Hunter August 22, 2012 11:16 AM

Three statisticians went duck hunting.

They spot a duck.

The first statistician shoots too high and misses.

The second statistician shoots too low and misses.

While the duck continues flying on its way unharmed, the third statistician shouts “We got it!”

Orval Bratrud August 22, 2012 11:17 AM

If you were a citizen of the USSR say back in the 50s or 60s, and received a telephone call from a stranger, polling you on your attitudes towards the KGB, what kind of answers would YOU give?

Me, I have to fly a lot, and I guaran-damn-tee you if I were phoned out of the blue by a strange ‘polling company’ asking me about the TSA, I would be effusive in my avowed happiness and joy with the good job those nice folks at the TSA are doing, and my gratitude for the porno-scanners.

Hell, I might even throw in a denunciation of the obese seat-mate on my last flight while I was at it.

Matt August 22, 2012 11:27 AM

I transported two server hard drives and had six fingerprint readers in my checked bag while traveling to Switzerland. Knowing that all that weird looking stuff would appear on the x-ray system and cause some interest, I left them near the top of my bag. Some agent did unlock my bag (as noted by the mechanism on my $5 lock), but he/she left 007 as the combo which made up for the invasion.

Yusuf X August 22, 2012 11:55 AM

Maybe we’re wrong and the TSA really is a wonderful government agency that makes the world a safer place to travel.

that guy August 22, 2012 11:57 AM

i’m going to climb on board with those who have called out the sample size. while not a statistician or pollster, i did work for a time in at a polling agency. standard sample size for a national survey at the time i worked there was way higher; they would never have released a national survey with a sample of only ~1000. further, in gallup’s sample, only 531 had actually flown in the last year. only 241 had flown 3 or more times; that subgroup has a margin of error of +/- 8%.

this poll is crap. it means nothing, and gallup should be ashamed.

Johnny August 22, 2012 11:58 AM

Does the question distinguish between individual screeners, who appear to most travelers competent, courteous, and busy, in, and the TSA as an organization? People might feel reluctant to say bad things about the screeners, even if they don’t like the system.

It’s sort of like the conflation of “supporting the troops” with supporting the war policy.

Johnny August 22, 2012 12:02 PM

BTW, the last time I flew, I got waved past the pornoscanners and into a standard metal detector both times. I’m not sure why. On the return trip, I was traveling with my two kids, so maybe they didn’t want to make us all go through the thing. My sense is that the whole process takes a lot less time, on average, than it did in the early-mid 00s.

Northern Realist August 22, 2012 12:08 PM

I’ve always been fascinated how surveys are skewed not only by the questions but by how the results are reported. Lumping categories in the final report changes the perception of the actual results (which from my observations seems to be commonly done when the questions didn’t skew things sufficiently) – “75% of respondants rate X as being fair to excellent” leaves a vey different impression than if it was reported as “70% of respondants rated X as fair, and 5% of respondants rate X as excellent”.

Remember, there are lies, damn lies and then there are statistics…

Northern Realist August 22, 2012 12:13 PM

@Saul – “the poll asked the wrong questions”

I disagree – they asked exactly the right questions for the pre-determined results they wanted. Your comment assumes they wanted accurate and truthful responses….

Neil August 22, 2012 12:32 PM

It doesnt surprise me that younger people are more positive about the TSA. Their adult lives have been at a time where this sort of security is commonplace. They just don’t know any different.

Scott August 22, 2012 12:37 PM

Have you been through a line at the airport? Most of the people make it through without a problem, and/or are told to throw away a bottle of water, and move on.

Very few people get an invasive screening, and the xray machine, metal detector, and the millimeter wave scanners are harmless arches that you go through and don’t even see the results of.

I’m a frequent flyer, and most of my interactions with TSA personal are pleasant enough.

If this is all you see and think about, then the TSA is doing a good job.

Very few people think about the massive stupidity of it all, or if they do, they blame some politician they hate, not the TSA.

Saul August 22, 2012 12:41 PM

millimeter wave scanners are harmless searches that you go through

Scott, a virtual strip search is being performed.

That is not so harmless.

Very few people think about the massive stupidity of it all

With that I agree. I think we have become so numb that many passengers no longer see the idiocy that their shoes, water bottles and toothpaste are now threats to national security.

Figureitout August 22, 2012 12:52 PM

Go to bottom of article: Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 9-12, 2012, with a random sample of 1,014 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

That is all you need to know, 4 days, 1014 people’s opinions out of 311,591,917.

Maybe they’re in a hurry and just say, “Yes, yes; they’re great. Can I go now?”. People don’t like to make people feel awkward and express their real opinions sometimes. Plus, they probably don’t want to be on a watch list either.

Frequent Flyer August 22, 2012 12:58 PM

Simple – if you define the job as “Make the traveling public feel as if the government is doing something” they do a decent job of that.

If you define the job of improving airport security, well, not so much.

CW August 22, 2012 12:58 PM

I’d be interested to see the opinions of people who fly internationally–IE, those who have seen other ways to do things, security-wise. My opinion of the TSA was low prior to a flight to the EU. After the flight to the EU, my opinion of of the TSA has dropped to a level I wouldn’t have imagined it reaching prior.

Tally another vote for “Stockholm Syndrome”

josephdietrich August 22, 2012 1:14 PM

Either Gallup’s polling methods are flawed (as others have suggested) or a slight majority of Americans actually do believe that the TSA is doing a better than “only Fair” job.

Tim August 22, 2012 1:18 PM

I agree with the Stockholm Syndrome comment. I’ve said for years that the problem with the TSA is that people who have come of age in the post-9/11 world don’t remember a time when you could basically saunter onto an airplane 10 minutes before take-off, and therefore have nothing to compare the current hassles with.

EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy August 22, 2012 1:42 PM

Anyone want to try to explain these numbers?


Or–less sarcastically–I suspect that people have just gotten used to it. You don’t try to change the whether and you have to put up with the TSA.

I haven’t flown for pleasure since 2001, and would rather drive 750 miles than subject my wife to that shi^Windignity. And if my scowl puts them off when I must fly on business, well, too bad.

HJohn August 22, 2012 1:47 PM

I haven’t read through all the nearly 100 comments preceding mine. So my apologies if someone has already said this.

I think the best explanation for these numbers was found in a writing of Bruce’s a few years back that I believe was called the “Psychology of Security.”

If I remember correctly, I recall two specific examples of theatre: bracelets on infants as an anti-abduction measure, and guards with guns that had no bullets in airports after 9/11. While both measures did little-to-nothing to improve security, the brought the publics perception of the risk to more closely match the reality of the small risk.

I think that is what is at work with the TSA. Rather than behind the scenes security measures that they don’t understand or may not even be aware of, the TSA is a tangible barrier/experience that every passenger feels when they fly. In their minds, the window of opportunity and the potential weapons are microscopic.

The fact that flyers have a higher opinoin about the TSA than non-flyers probably is largely due to fact that the efforts (regardless of their effectiveness) are tangible to those who experience them. Non-fliers are probably more swayed by the news (and are probably among those who wrongly feel safer driving because of their experience over facts).

DigruntledFlyer August 22, 2012 1:49 PM

Take the poll with people who fly more than 10 times per year and I bet you get a whole different set of numbers.

Sometimes you have to see things more than once to understand just how bad things are. Nothing like being denigrated in multiple timezones on multiple dates by multiple people.

kingsnake August 22, 2012 2:02 PM

There’s a reason more people — like DisgruntledFlyer — are driving, taking buses and trains these days, and it’s not because those are inherently more efficient modes of travel. It’s because the flight experience is, from beginning to end, miserable. The TSA is but one component of the misery, the airlines and their customer hostile business practices are the bigger. And the airlines can get away with it, because the victim, err “customer”, who complains or resists, will swiftly himself cuffed. I’m with DF: It’s quicker (and much less hassle) to drive 300 miles than to fly it.

Andrew August 22, 2012 2:22 PM

People respect the TSA for the same reason they respect police and the military. Most people have been trained to swoon over authority figures.

LG August 22, 2012 2:35 PM

Two possible explanations:

(1) We’ve had this awful security theater for so long, young people have never known anything else (sort of like how I, in my ’40’s, can’t imagine that people used to dress up to fly, like they were going to a fancy restaurant or something), and even older people have simply gotten used to the madness and need to reflect carefully to remember how different it used to be.

(2) The polls are not distinguishing properly between TSA policies and the TSA agents on the ground. I, myself, think the TSA policies and current security theater regime is idiotic, but I’ve experienced nothing but professionalism and courtesy from TSA agents I meet in airports.

Someone August 22, 2012 2:59 PM

It is sometimes very difficult, even for those trained in the arts, to detect the difference between correlation and causation.

But we don’t even have a correlation! The average incidence of 9/11-scale catastrophes under the TSA equals the average incidence before the TSA to within experimental error.

Rookie August 22, 2012 3:21 PM

@Clive Robinson

As you’ve spent some time in the US I’m sure you’ve heard of the Gallup Organization before. While all polls may be suspect because of the vagaries of human nature in the responders, Gallup’s continued existence and reputation rests on turning out the most objective poll results possible, which includes careful and random selection of their poll targets.

Whether you like the results or not, I can assure you they didn’t come from some lackadasical poll-taker wandering around the local mall over-sampling friendly affluent White middle-class women to ask what their opinions are about the TSA.

Dr. I. Needtob Athe August 22, 2012 3:31 PM

Figureitout says “That is all you need to know, 4 days, 1014 people’s opinions out of 311,591,917.”

This reveals an ignorance of statistics. It’s the size of the sample that matters, not the size of the population. If you have trouble seeing that, consider that accurate assessments can be made of infinite populations with appropriate sample sizes.

Clive Robinson August 22, 2012 3:37 PM

@ Rookie,

As you’ve spent some time in the US I’m sure you’ve heard of the Gallup Organization before

I heard of them a long long time ago and they’ve been operating in the UK for quite a while one way or another.

And yes I’ve been on the receiving end of them and their more recent “phone call campaigns”.

Back then they called me “randomly” on my contract work issued mobile and then the following day on my personal business landline. Youl’d probably think it was a coincidence as neither was in my name or in related businesss names. But they asked to speak to me by name both times. So I suspect they were working down an alphbet ordered listing, but where they got the details from I’ve no idea.

Any way I told them I charge for both my time and opinions by the hour in advance and they cleared of fairly quickly.

charles August 22, 2012 4:30 PM

If you define TSA’s job as being solely and completely security theatre, I, too would give them an “only fair” and “somewhat effective” rating.

On the other hand, if you define TSA’s job as being security and/or anti-terrorism, then the ratings I would give them are “poor” and “not effective at all.”

So, I guess it comes down to 1) how you define TSA’s job, and 2) how well you understand security.

Neil August 22, 2012 5:05 PM

It doesnt surprise me that younger people are more positive about the TSA. Their adult lives have been at a time where this sort of security is commonplace. They just don’t know any different.

Figureitout August 22, 2012 5:12 PM

@Dr. I. Needtob Athe

Well, please enlighten us (or just me) all with some examples of appropriate sample sizes with this survey and other infinite populations. Is 1014 appropriate here? I know you like to be brief but slather it on thick.

Where did I say the size of the sample didn’t matter?

I do recall one example, where astronomers reasoned water without doubt came from comets/asteroids because of 2 examples out of all the known universe.

Fisher1949 August 22, 2012 5:57 PM

The Gallup poll results show that most Americans think TSA is useless in protecting them. The poll says that 58% found TSA less than effective. Since security effectiveness is their only responsibility how can this be construed as favorable for TSA? Why is the media focusing only on the “job” data?

Gallup said that 54% of Americans “think” TSA does a decent job while 44% don’t think they do a good job, hardly a ringing endorsement. The poll has a 4% margin indicating that Americans are largely divided on whether the screeners are doing a good job or not. It also shows TSA’s PR campaign has been more successful than their workers.

Why was it necessary to add the adjective “only” to the fair performance category when “fair” would have been sufficient? This creates a bias by implying “only” is bad in the question and contaminates the result.
The Gallup question on TSA job performance was severely flawed and biased. There were two options that gave TSA a clearly favorable rating, Excellent and Good but only one that gave them a clearly unfavorable rating, Poor. The Only Fair category was somewhat neutral and offered a substitute for an unfavorable rating.
So if a plane explodes because of TSA incompetence but America thinks the screeners “do a good job” that makes it okay?

Gallup’s data shows that 48% of respondents have not flown in a year or more and are not familiar with the agency or its procedures and 75% seldom if ever fly.

Another interpretation of Gallup’s data is that 75% of Americans are non-fliers or rarely use airlines and are unaware of TSA’s poor performance record or just don’t care since it doesn’t affect them.

Maybe Gallup will comment on why TSA’s poor effectiveness wasn’t the headline in the press and why the media favorably reported the performance results.

And how does anyone explain how only 122 people who flew more than five times in the past year suffice for anyone to conclude that millions of frequent fliers view TSA favorably?

The current media pandering to an incompetent agency that can’t rid itself of criminals is jeopardizing airline safety, not helping it.

John David Galt August 22, 2012 6:05 PM

I expect that the causation goes the other way: most people like me who don’t approve of the TSA have given up flying, since there is neither a refund nor any recourse if they steal your flight from you for having the “attitude” of a free person, much less if they steal or destroy things from your luggage. Better to drive.

What scares me is that there are so many “sheep” willing to put up with the TSA.

mwallette August 22, 2012 8:03 PM

My college stats professor used to moonlight as an expert witness in legal cases that required a statistician explain to the jury what various statistics proved. I can recall his exact words when relating this story to the class: “So the lawyers would ask me, ‘What do the stats say?’ and I would respond, ‘What do you want them to say?'” A year or two later, I took a senior-level stats class, “Survey Sampling,” and learned a little bit — a very little, mind you — about what he meant. How you word the poll, how you select your survey sample, etc. has an enormous impact upon the results you get.

anonymous coward August 23, 2012 12:58 AM

Posing a question is steering the thinking. This cannot be avoided.
Why even try to explain these figures? It is the wrong question, I am afraid.
Would you ask Joe the plumber to judge the effectiveness of the TSA and trust his opinion any more than for instance his opninion on home banking security measures? Is he in any position to assess this? For the TSA I cannot judge their effectiveness either, just how their agents deal with some situations according to reports here and elsewhere.
The answers probably indicate if people believe the TSA statements about its effectiveness. 50% does.

pfogg August 23, 2012 1:39 AM

@Alan “Gallup also failed to ask the big question: is it worth all the trouble, or would people prefer a different solution?”

I would answer their questions: How do you think they’re doing? Only fair. How effective are they? Somewhat effective. This makes me sound somewhere between neutral and supportive.

Answering alternative questions: Is it worth the cost? No. Is it worth the trouble? No. Would I prefer a different solution? Emphatically yes. Would I prefer eliminating them and restoring pre-TSA methods? Yes, with reservations.

My opinion, at least, would be misrepresented if I had participated in this poll.

Egmont Ouerveture August 23, 2012 1:45 AM

The People fear their Government, and not the other way around.

THAT is the problem.

Sam Watkins August 23, 2012 1:57 AM

Would you eat at a restaurant where 46% say it’s “poor” or “awful”?

54% approval is not very good. I’m glad my grades were better than that.

Autolykos August 23, 2012 5:50 AM

No need to explain anything. It’s p-Values or STFU.

Basically, they have a small sample size and extremely ambiguous results. Their “study” isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. Sadly, newspapers print nonsense like that, but any serious journal would reject it.

bob August 23, 2012 6:23 AM

A good job, huh?

Then why was it, when my wife and I were discussing her upcoming trip, that the topic came up of the guy who got “detained” for wearing an anti-TSA t-shirt?

Why did we discuss the fact that if a “pat-down” is required she must stay in view of the public, AKA witnesses, and not go to a so-called “rape room”?

Why is it that we discussed the fact that the woman she is flying with, who flies a lot, who is also attractive, ALWAYS gets a grope-down? EVERY TIME!

Why is it that I am uneasy turning over my wife to these thugs and child-molestors?

They notice the attractive women but wouldn’t notice a bomb or a gun if there were one.

If they had polled me, I would not say they are doing a good job. I would say they are out of uniform, they forgot to put on their SS arm bands.

HiTechHiTouch August 23, 2012 8:26 AM

The possible answers (excellent, good, only fair or poor job) may affect things.

First, there is no truly neutral answer.

Second, there is not a “don’t care/don’t know/other” answer.

Third, a significant number of people are conflict avoiders, and will not pick any answer which seems contentious.

And as pointed out, there is ambiguity in the definition of TSA, e.g. policy vs. implementation.

GreenSquirrel August 23, 2012 8:48 AM

I am not sure there is even any need to explain the figures.

It may well be that 54% of Americans think the TSA is good or it may not be. The survey may be flawed (not the first time), the answers may have been misinterpreted, etc.

However, what is more important is that surveys like this are frequently presented to try and marginalise and quieten dissenters.

Now its going to be easier for the TSA to tell people to stop complaining because “most people are happy with it.”

Personally, I dont care how many people like the TSA, it is still pointless, wasteful, security theatre.

Jon Eliot August 23, 2012 9:23 AM

The article does not seem to say “Americans like the TSA”. It is more “Americans do not unanimously dislike the TSA”. A 54% approval rate for a vital service is not good at all.

Jerry Tilson August 23, 2012 10:20 AM

Maybe most folks were afraid to answer honestly for fear of being put on the “no-fly” list. 😉

-S August 23, 2012 11:58 AM

A pushy stranger calls on the telephone and begins asking questions about your perceptions of the TSA.

Informed people, who know about risks, think about security, and practice good security hygiene will hang up the telephone.

At least some and perhaps many of those who answer will be justifiably afraid to voice strongly negative opinions about the government to a stranger. A search of Google news for the term “facebook arrest” returns over 2 million hits.

Others who answer are uninformed about security and impressed by uniforms and security theater.

Selection bias provides a plausible explanation.

Figureitout August 23, 2012 2:12 PM

@ -S

A search of Google news for the term “facebook arrest” returns over 2 million hits.

Bingo. See what happens when you express your real opinion, off to the mental institution. +1

Jeff August 23, 2012 2:42 PM

For the correct answer, you should ask Daniel Kahneman, or read Thinking Fast and Slow. WYSIATI, or what you see is all there is, allows or causes people to make (mis)informed decisions on topics of which most of the facts are unknown to them. The question itself, how is the TSA doing, is itself preposterous. What are the metrics by which the TSA is judged? How can uninformed people make informed judgements? Do people know that they don’t know how to judge? Of course they don’t, so they do.

keith August 24, 2012 3:19 AM

54% is a very slim majority for thinking it’s good.
41% is a very high value for the negative.

If these were the performance indicators of a business, they’d be finished. these numbers are not something to be proud of.

Philip Guenther August 24, 2012 1:12 PM

(I was once asked whether I felt that a brand of blue jeans were ‘genuine’. I attempted to get the interviewer to explain to me what that could possibly mean, and he both refused to explain and still wanted an answer).

“Do I feel those jeans are genuine? I think they’re ‘giraffe’. What do I mean? I’m sorry, but I can’t explain and you must take my answer!”

bob August 24, 2012 3:14 PM

[sigh] I fear this means we wont be shutting them down as a failed experiment and getting our money back anytime soon…

yt August 25, 2012 2:26 AM

My feelings about the TSA are complicated. Despite my experiences of “randomly” getting SSSS boarding passes and generally getting more attention from security when I fly, so far I have found just about every individual TSA employee I have interacted with to be friendly and courteous.

On the other hand, I have also seen the TSA being spectacularly ineffective – following procedures for the sake of following procedures, making stuff up as they go along, etc.

So yes, I have a positive view of TSA employees, while having a negative view of the organization the represent.

Anon August 25, 2012 9:32 PM


We do have a correlation. During 2001, roughly 3000 Americans died a year during domestic terrorist attacks. After 2001, almost no Americans died from domestic terrorist attacks.

JohnP August 27, 2012 7:10 PM

I bet the questions were pro-TSA, like “have you stopped beating your wife while in line at the airport?”

Autolykos August 28, 2012 9:27 AM

@JohnP: Then they’d need to figure out what to do with all those answers of “Mu”.

Lika August 28, 2012 7:53 PM

Regarding TSA: While i have no data to work on in this case, by “guess” – as many others said – is that most people do not rate how they’re treated, or how effective a job the TSA does… but instead simply rate their “intuitive” (actually, “naive”) IMPRESSION of how hard the TSA tries to protect the public from the phatoms. So, they simply rate “security theatre” and apparent “professionality” (read: how robotic they act, because as everyone knows, that implies “rationality” and “objectivity”).

As for me, the last time i flew – though, not in the USA – in the last 2 years, my experience was like this:

Immediatelly, when entering the airport, i would already be selected out at the escalator leading into the airport. While i have no info why this was done, i’d expect the reason to be, that i was sweating (had to run a lot to not miss my flight, and weather was burning hot)…. and me wearing industrial safety shoes (which obviously makes me a potential neonazi, as opposed to someone, who just doesn’t like buying new shoes every year, because of crappy quality).

Security would then via radio request info if there are any arrest warrants on me. About 2mins later, i could finally continue sprinting to me flight – now being even more late.

Then, at security checkpoint, the alarm would go out, and i would be asked to put my hands up and be searched…. reason: forgot about the girdle i was wearing.

Ultimately, barely got my flight…. yet, besides of the nice scenery, it wasn’t exactly reassuring as well: From the sudden and robotic movement of the aircraft, i knew that the whole flight basically ran on autopilot… and i wondered if the pilot could fly competently, if the AP would fail.

Jonadab August 28, 2012 9:51 PM

Perhaps the TSA is doing a good job.

Bear with me. I don’t mean what you probably think I mean. I’ll explain…

Most people aren’t very good at estimating risk. Almost the entire population believes that flying in a plane is a great deal more dangerous than riding in a car. Even if they theoretically know better, their actual level of nervousness about each activity belies that knowledge. People are much more comfortable about their safety when riding in a car than when flying.

The TSA seems to understand that its real job is to make people feel safe about flying. That’s why the TSA exists in the first place: after September of 2001, people were afraid to fly. The TSA exists to make them feel better about it. That’s their job. It’s what they do.

Yes, yes, officially, on paper, their job is to provide actual security. However, anyone who knows how to do an actual security analysis understands this to be unnecessary. The attacks in 2001 relied heavily on the fact that airline passengers had for decades been trained to think that they should cooperate with hijackers in order to maximize their chances of getting off the plane safely. After 2001, that won’t work any more. If the TSA’s job were to ensure actual security, to prevent September 11th from being repeated, they would be incapable of failing, because no matter what they do (or don’t do), that scenario is not going to happen again. So yes, they say that their job is to provide security, that that’s just part of their shtick. It’s part of the act. It’s part of how they accomplish their real job, which is to make people feel better about the dangers of flying in an airplane.

So if most people think the TSA is effective, then, ipso facto, they are effective. The fact that most people misunderstand what they’re effective at doing is actually an interesting part of how they achieve that effectiveness. They’re doing interesting work in applied sociology.

David September 15, 2012 7:01 AM

This is complete propaganda, and because of this I have unsubscribed from Schneier’s list, which I’ve been faithfully been reading for years.

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