TSA/Airport Security: Killing Us On Christmas

from the well,-indirectly,-but-still... dept

It’s typical to preface a Techdirt article, for me at least, by backtracking to a bunch of articles on related subject matter. I’m not going to do that with another piece on the TSA. Not because there isn’t enough material to choose from. Oh no, there’s simply too much of it, so if you want to see insanity in its most naked form (this statement assumes you don’t live next to Gary Busey), just click here and you won’t be disappointed. That said, even those outraged by the pure idiocy of the TSA’s post 9/11 production of security theater will normally decry it as a massive waste of money or a gross encroachment on civil liberty. And they’re right on both counts. Still, the more striking fact should be that the TSA, an agency with the mission of keeping us alive, is causing death.

Compare the dangers of air travel to those of driving. To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.

Yup, you read that correctly. The TSA, in an attempt to keep us safe through the wonders of naked scanners and light petting, has pushed people away from air travel and out onto the road…where they’re dying. I suggest we all stop thinking of the TSA as just a waste of money and add “death-causer” to the list. The absurdity of this fact is striking, to say the least. This is a government agency that has failed on every measurable level, from cost effectiveness, to its terrorist-catching-batting-average, to the blatant offense it causes to American ideals… and now we know people are dying as a result of all this nonsense.

This is just another symptom of our overreaction to the constant drumbeat of the Islamic-extremism threat. While death of American citizens is chief amongst my concerns, the economics are flat out insane.

According to one estimate of direct and indirect costs borne by the U.S. as a result of 9/11, the New York Times suggested the attacks themselves caused $55 billion in “toll and physical damage,” while the economic impact was $123 billion. But costs related to increased homeland security and counterterrorism spending, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, totaled $3,105 billion. Mueller and Stewart estimate that government spending on homeland security over the 2002-11 period accounted for around $580 billion of that total.

Three Trillion dollars in response to a single, albeit terrifying, event. I’ll excuse us all, myself included, for the first year or so after 9/11, a time that I remember quite well in that I was scared. Much in the same way I’m legitimately frightened at a horror movie when the masked weirdo with the knife rips open the shower curtain to stab some barely memorable woman. But then, a couple minutes later, my heartbeat returns to normal and I remember that it’s all just a movie. This holiday season, as all of us endure the uptick in our travel schedules, remember that. It’s time for the TSA budget to reflect ongoing reality, not the single terrifying moment.

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Comments on “TSA/Airport Security: Killing Us On Christmas”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Uh, I don’t like the TSA, but isn’t Techdirt always complaining about the RIAA and MPAA attributing every act of piracy as a one-to-one loss of revenue? Isn’t shuffling the statistics from plane trips to car trips the same weak logic? And there’s no way there’s direct causation could prove that people stopped flying because of the TSA or taht the long car rides that substitute for air travel are the rides that have an average likeliness of resulting in accidents and fatalities.

Also, the Cornell data is from 2005. People weren’t avoiding air travel because of the TSA’s incompetence, they were avoiding air travel because 9/11 was fresh in their heads and they honestly thought that airline hijackings could become more common.

It’s BusinessWeek’s mistake, not Techdirt’s, but I’m really not sure why you’re directing our attention to it and highlighting the scary headline, which is only one paragraph of the article that uses data from 2003 and 2005.

out_of_the_blue says:

Re: @AC: Timmy is mainly complaining that he's affected.

I don’t want to be TOO rude on this point — just rude enough — but fact is that Timmy within last two weeks was gung-ho for the Navy Seal team that allegedly killed Bin Laden in Pakistan. Just in that incident, a $50M and up super-stealth helicopter was destroyed due to pilot error, but Timmy doesn’t care about the cost of what entertains him — or the lives of foreigners taken or ruined by an illegal war. It’s only now that Americans are beginning to chafe under the inevitable connection of foreign adventures for empire and domestic police state that Timmy and others complain.

By the way, this story also gets a boost because a certain stripe of “conservative-libertarians” always want to do cost-benefit analysis to generally rail at gov’t waste. But again, the same types love to see bombs going off to “shock and awe” people who’ve done them no harm.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: @AC: Timmy is mainly complaining that he's affected.

Are you fucking kidding me? SEAL Team 6 got bin Laden, a man with American blood on his hands. I don’t give a shit what political path you follow, a man who orchestrates the murder of American civilians is a marked man.

I never thought you’d up your dumbass level of crazy to actually attack the operation that finally got Osama bin Laden, but congratulations, you got there. Go piss on heroes somewhere else, delusional moron…

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: @AC: Timmy is mainly complaining that he's affected.

I must agree. I know that Mike prides himself on openness in the comments here, but out_of_the_blue has repeatedly shown, over the last few weeks, that he has nothing constructive to contribute to any article. I think there’s more than enough reasons by now to either block this loser or at least institute some sort of hellban.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: @AC: Timmy is mainly complaining that he's affected.

“SEAL Team 6 got bin Laden”. “…a man who orchestrates the murder of American civilians…” “…the operation that finally got Osama bin Laden…”. You believe what the government and mainstream media tell you. And you call someone else a delusional moron?!

akp (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I agree that the TSA isn’t completely to blame for people choosing to drive rather than fly.

It’s a big part of it, but another huge part is the constant rise in airfares and baggage fees, overcrowded planes, no more meals (unless you pay far out the ass), and aging uncomfortable airplanes.

I fly because I “have” to. I live in Alaska. If I want to go anywhere, driving there isn’t really an option for me. If I lived in the 48 states, my first travel choice would be train.

The TSA is a big part of why airline travel has become such an exercise in indignity, but it’s not the only part.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

This is definitely true, and I would not assign any numbers to this with any certainty. But it’s also hard to imagine that there isn’t anybody driving instead of flying because of the TSA. My gut feeling is the numbers are probably small but significant, and any significant increase in driving leads to more deaths. How many deaths has the TSA prevented? As far I know, zero.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

No, I just read the article carefully, checked its sources, and I know how statistics can be misused. The numbers in the article related to driving vs. flying are from years ago, so it’s not an accurate depiction of the past decade. Repeating conclusions from those statistics today implies that the same conditions are still going on, which is extrapolation. So that part’s crap, without even getting into the reasons why people aren’t flying as much.

Statistically, most fatal accidents involve alcohol/drugs, bad weather, and maybe cell phones. If you’re driving with your family on vacation to Disney World instead of flying there, your trip is not necessarily in the category where most fatal accidents occur. Sure, you could get hit by a drunk driver, but you’re not in the conditions this scenario is assuming as the “average”. So just mashing together the increased number of people not flying since 9/11 with the accident risk numbers of automobiles is misleading.

But hey, let’s look at the bright side of this. Driving saves you money on airline tickets and rental cars at the cost of gasoline and a fraction of your car’s lifetime, which isn’t as much. You save anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars when you drive. You can use that money to buy hundreds of mosquito nets for children in impoverished nations, protecting them from insect-borne illnesses. Therefore, the TSA isn’t killing people, it’s saving thousands of children’s lives! Yay for misusing statistics!

out_of_the_blue says:

Your buttons were pushed to paralyze you with fear, Timmy.

Smartasses like you don’t even recognize that they have buttons by which they’re easily manipulated. But you do; we all do; those who think they’re too smart to be conned are easy marks. — I admit it’s easy to slip into paranoia, but as time goes on it’s become impossible to stay ahead of the billions spent sheerly on thinking up new ways to induce paranoia and implement more police state controls. — Much of Techdirt’s re-writes are about exactly that.

It’s now irrelevant who staged 9/11, but it’s obvious that “the terrorists have won” by achieving nearly all goals, completely wrecked American freedom. $3.1T is just the start: wars and surveillance have no visible end. Enjoy the shock-bracelets that are next on the TSA agenda.

Franklin G Ryzzo (profile) says:

Re: Your buttons were pushed to paralyze you with fear, Timmy.

“It’s now irrelevant who staged 9/11, but it’s obvious that “the terrorists have won” by achieving nearly all goals, completely wrecked American freedom. $3.1T is just the start: wars and surveillance have no visible end.”

Holy Shit! You managed to say something intelligent and made it through a whole post with only a mild attack (by your normal standards) on the author. I have to agree 100% with your quoted statement. The state that our country is currently in and the path it continues to move down each day validates the terrorists victory in almost every conceivable way. $3.1T spent and what do we have to show for it? Invasion of privacy and loss of civil liberties without a single instance of thwarted terrorism.

Anonymous Coward says:

Personally i avoid any US terminals like the plague. Sorry but you don’t need any nude photos after i’ve already gone through security simply because i happen to transfer to another plane while in a US airport.

If i were going to hijack a plane, it would have happened BEFORE i touched down on US soil…

Probably get tossed in jail for posting this though, as obviously no terrorist would have ever thought of this before i posted it…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

You can almost write off an attack for the rest of this year. People were crowded together at all manner of stores during the “Grey Thursday” and “Black Friday” nonsense. If terrorists wanted a good place to kill a very large number of people during massive confusion then that would have been the perfect time. Would have also been a great commentary about how our capitalist society was dooming itself if they wanted to spin it that way.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ll tell you one that no longer flies. That’s me. I don’t want my money going to this dog and pony show. I’ll drive thank you rather than put up with a big brother attitude that it should be alright to grope you while you pay for the privilege. Screw that!

You might also ask yourself why tourism is down in the US. Between the economy and the BS about you no longer have any right to privacy, many in Europe are choosing other destinations rather than go through all the crap to all them into the US to spend money. Nothing but the dislike of what big brother wants to put you through.

In all the money wasted on this security theater the TSA has yet to show you bonifide terrorists caught because they were on the job. Rather there seems to monthly reports of people bringing guns through the inspections while the TSA is busy flagging mothers with empty baby bottles for breast milk.

It’s just another example of waste and corruption that has become so rampant in today’s government.

Adam Wasserman (profile) says:


The bottom line is that humans are terrible at calculating risk.

As a whole, we are broken machines when it comes to figuring out what we should really be worrying about. I like what Peter Sandman, an expert in risk communications has done, he has redefined risk to make it match the human reality. He says Risk = Hazard + Outrage.

I wrote a blog post about it. People will always worry about the least likely thing to happen while ignoring what is actually happening *all the time*.

As out_of_the_blue points out: While the masses worry about a terrorist attack that will never come, they ignore US government restrictions on constitutionally guaranteed freedoms. That is like worrying about dying in an airplane crash while driving on an interstate during Thanksgiving weekend.

AgonizingFury says:

I agree (to a point)

I agree with nasch, there is probably a small but significant increase in traffic deaths as a result of the TSA, and it would be difficult to qualify this number reliably. However, equally difficult to qualify is the number of deaths/attacks the TSA has stopped. Zero cannot be qualified, because we have no idea how many terrorist plans were not attempted because of the security theatre.
I agree that things get through; I agree that the TSA totally disregards our rights, and I agree that we should not give up our liberties for safety. But to claim that the TSA’s security theatre hasn’t stopped a single attack is just plain unsupportable. I think the TSA should be shut down. I think that even if we had a major terrorist attack every month, the safety lost would be worth not losing my liberty. But to support this opinion with numbers that are pure fantasy is absolutely ridiculous.
Correlation is not causation. Ice Cream does not cause boating accidents, yet every year in Michigan when Ice Cream sales skyrocket, so do the number of boating accidents. To claim that the TSA is responsible for every one of those deaths (or any of them) is just as ridiculous.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: I agree (to a point)

Zero cannot be qualified, because we have no idea how many terrorist plans were not attempted because of the security theatre.

That’s a good point, it’s possible there are would-be terrorists who haven’t even tried. But considering how stupid and ineffective the security theater is, and that even the failed post-9/11 attacks haven’t been stopped by the TSA, the number could very well be zero.

Lars says:

tourism losses

I have specifically avoided travelling in the US due to the “dog and pony show” myself. I recently decided I wanted to go to Hawaii too much to say no, so I went. And sure enough, the TSA process was demeaning and pointless. I felt a little ashamed of myself for putting up with it just to go to a nice place. This crap has to end or the US will just lose more respect and tourism dollars from the rest of the world.

Steve D says:

It's not the TSA

Years before 9/11, I went through security checks in Europe that equal anything ever done by TSA. This has been routine there for years. When you see guards in the airports with automatic weapons, and armored vehicles on the runway, then TSA will equal what they have in Europe.

TSA has nothing to do with choosing to drive. It’s cost and the inconvenience and discomfort of flying itself. Anything less than a day away by car makes more sense to drive than fly. By the time you factor in fees, parking and ground transportation, driving make a lot more sense than flying. If flying was like it was in 1970 (before that blessed deregulation) we’d fly a lot more, but then again, air travel is too crowded already.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: It's not the TSA

Years before 9/11, I went through security checks in Europe that equal anything ever done by TSA. This has been routine there for years.

If you mean European security was generally way tighter and more effective than the US before September 11th 2001 then I’d agree with you. If you mean it was as intrusive and intimate and pointless as the current security theatre then no, not even close.
The tightest security I’ve been through anywhere at any time was Belfast airport in Northern Ireland there there was an armed checkpoint to enter the airport grounds, pre-screening of baggage to get into the airport including random but business-like effective and non-intimate pat-downs and then the usual (at the time) security checks done very carefully. They at least had a credible threat of an attack at the time and still that level of security did not feel invasive and gave the impression of buisness-like efficiency. It also took little longer to get through than any other airport back then.
Now, prompted and led by the US/TSA paranioa, we have massive invasions or privacy with the wide sharing of personal information, the inconvenience of having to provide it way before you travel, the frustration of trying to make all the various bits of information match up when the fields to enter them aren’t long enough or if you are travelling together as a party that don’t live together. We have overly intimate pat-downs that one would usually expect dinner or at least drinks beforehand that are given at the slightest provocation, often due to metal detectors turned up so sensitive that the tiny metal tassle on drawstring trousers will set them off. We have passports and travel documents being checked so frequently at airportts that every time you walk through a door it feels like you are at checkpoint charlie in a bad WWII film. We have vastly overpriced water being sold in airports because you can’t take it with you. We have the hassle of carefully planning what toiletries you take on a weekend break to still be able to take your bag on as handluggage instead of having to wait at reclaim the other end. We have the inabilty to cut the bad food on the plane because they are no longer allowed to give you a metal knife.
And on and on and on…. and not one bit of it has improved security in any noticeable degree over that which existed before in Europe and together has managed to increase the time taken to get through an airport by 2-3 times, roughly double the time it takes to prepare to travel and increase the intrusiveness of the “security” by a factor of 3.

AC says:

TSA Perv Song

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
everyone was crying (even our pet mouse).
Passengers were molested by the blue-gloved pervs,
I wanted to say no, but I lacked the nerve.

The children were probed, it’s etched in their minds,
because the pedoscreeners massaged their behinds.
They searched mamma, not once but twice,
they squeezed my sack, it didn’t feel nice.

Outside the gate, there arose such a clatter,
I pulled up my pants, and went to see what was the matter.
Out of the aquarium, I flew like a flash,
and removed the blue glove they had left, half-shoved up my ass.

There a screener had her hand on grandma’s breast,
I thought such depravity, must be followed by arrest.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
perversion most foul – way worse than plain queer.

An agent molesting an old man, who screamed it was sick,
I knew at that moment, the TSA guy had just grabbed his dick.
They molested us all, we were treated the same,
then, of course, they thanked us by name.

Now, traveler, take off your shoe,
we claim to protect you from terrorists, but you know it’s not true.
With security theater, and an ex-Stasi consultant, too,
it’s to pointlessly compel obedience, that we do what we do.

Jess says:

I drove a 1700 mile round trip this summer, from Texas to Tennessee. It cost me more in time and money. About 15 hours of driving (which I did straight, as I was alone and concerned about stopping) vs the 8 or so I’d spend between security, flight, layover, and the second flight. (Only about 5 of that related to actual travel.) About a $300-$350 trip had I taken the plane, including baggage fees, vs about the $700 that I spent on gas, food, and coffee to stay awake that long, including the extra day off I ended up taking.

My primary motivation was that I didn’t want to interact with the TSA more than I had to. Standing in the security lines freaks me out, because all I can think is how … target rich that environment is, and how trapped I am there. Frankly, there will not be another plane hijacking of that nature occur. Anyone who has tried has been dogpiled. That security line, though … [shudder]. The security theatre is dangerous, haphazard, and frankly unconstitutional.

Flying to Indiana two weeks ago was a case of “no choice” — it’s either fly or drive, and 14 hours (without stopping) one way was too much, 16-18 isn’t feasible. The only passenger train this area gets comes through 3x a week from New Orleans going to the West Coast.

I’m discussing moving closer to the people I travel to see rather than deal with the TSA four to six times a year. As soon as one of the job interviews up in the more central location for “safe” driving distance lands me something, I’m moving. I hate the cold, I really do. But I’d rather be discomforted due to the weather and get to see my friends without being molested than to continue with the current status quo.

Crashoverride (profile) says:

As previously mentioned and by other experts. The long long security lines are now more of a target prior to screening than being submitted to being searched etc… Just imagine how air travel will look should no one want to ever stand in a screening line again after an attack that would kill more and create more fear than a much more difficult hijacking.

Furthermore once you make it past security minus razor blades or nail clippers. Look at what is on an airplane. Pop-cans that can be opened up to create razorblade like weapons or hundreds of other objects

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