Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Opting Out of 'Opt-Out Day'

I am opting out of National Opt-Out Day - the protest over full-body scanners that are increasingly used in major U.S. airports - by not flying today. But then, I wasn't going to fly over the typically frenzied U.S. Thanksgiving holiday anyway. I know better.

Sensibly, most Americans are foregoing the airport protests that Internet organizers of National Opt-Out Day were calling for. Media reports say most U.S. air travelers are understandably more interested in getting to their destinations than in opting for intimate pat-downs - also criticized as invasions of privacy - in place of X-ray scans. If lots of people chose the time-consuming pat-downs, it would lead to prolonged delays at airports at an already-busy time.

Sensibly, too, opinion polls show that most Americans understand that the Transportation Security Administration - which handles U.S. air passenger screening - performs an essential service and is well-meaning, even it it does exhibit a decidedly tone-deaf approach to customer service and public relations. Imagine if no one was screened for your flight and a terrorist simply waltzed onto your plane. Dying in a terrorist attack could spoil your whole day.

TSA's security techniques need to be reviewed and improved, and public opinion should play a role, but civil disobedience or de facto slowdowns are not the way to make that happen.

The most sensible comments I found about this ill-conceived National Opt-Out Day come from the Business Travel Coalition, which notes:

"Airports have been high-value targets of terrorists for some 35 years. On Dec. 29, 1975 (New York City's) LaGuardia Airport was teeming with holiday travelers when a bomb exploded, killing 11 and injuring 75. Today, security best-practice around the world includes moving passengers from the non-secure to the secure sides of airports as expeditiously as possible. To promote actions that impede holiday travelers at non-secure airport checkpoints is irresponsible; to advertsie it in advance to terrorists is reckless.''

Another smart observation from the BTC, a leading trade group of corporate travel-planners:

"Treating all passengers transiting the aviation system as if they are equal threats to national security represents worst-practice because it is ineffective, costly and distractive of better practices.''

Couldn't have said it better myself.

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