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Civil Liberties and the TSA: Fewer Body Scanners This Holiday Season is a Win For Liberty

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As of November 15, the Transportation Security Agency has announced that it officially packed up over $14 million worth of its full-body scanner scanning machines, citing privacy concerns as the primary reason for suspending their use. Having just recently argued against the use of these machines as a detriment to privacy, this strikes me as a noteworthy landmark in the cause for personal liberty.

According to USA Today, these body-scanners produce “near naked images” of passengers, causing major delays in the free flow of travelers as each image must be viewed in a separate room, with clearance being radioed back to the checkpoint where the passenger is scanned. The machines were originally to be replaced with newer models that produce a generic “stick-figure-like” image. However, it was ruled that this newer technology was flawed and could not adequately measure security while alleviating privacy concerns.

The intrusive backscatter imaging devices were pulled about a month ago in New York City's LaGuardia and JFK airports, Chicago O'Hare, and in Boston, Charlotte, Los Angeles, and Orlando. Having first planned to move these machines to smaller airports, TSA's assistant administrator for security capabilities, John Sanders, says the machines have been moved to warehouse in Texas alongside over $100 million worth of other unused equipment (which should induce a tangential eye roll at this stockpile of government waste).

Although the move has yet to be made in all airports nationwide, it is certainly worth repeating that this is a victory for the liberty movement. Of course, it leaves some with legitimate concerns as to how we can address security concerns without doing damage to privacy. One might be left asking how we can sufficiently, simultaneously address safety and privacy in a free society.

As I had briefly touched on in my previous article on the subject, the fact that airlines are searching their passengers in order to keep travel “safe” (or else create the illusion of safety) is not the major issue. Although these acts are invasive and often questionable, there is no doubt that some airlines would likely be run this way with or without the TSA or government mandate.

No, the primary problem is the fact that the TSA are the employees of the federal government — meaning anyone whom wishes to travel by air must grovel with the state in order to do so. Like practically all government failure, implementing a one-size-fits-all plan for airport security is inefficient, ineffective, and reduces freedom. Because not only do the TSA's searches delay air travel, but they have yet to produce any results, and have permanently changed the standard by which the government may step into our personal space and fondle our nether regions.

And, as is also the norm with all government failure, these problems could be solved most effectively and efficiently in the private sector. Not to mention that it will do so without any involuntary reduction of liberty. By allowing airlines to decide which form of security works best for them, individuals would be free to choose their preferred system based on the relative costs and merits. Some airlines, for example, may opt to keep a TSA-like system using body-scanners and pat downs. Others may choose to enforce even stricter policies, such as full-blown strip searches. Others still may arm their pilots, and allow their passengers to carry unloaded firearms on board.

When the market is left to decide which is the best method for protecting passengers, at maximum efficiency and for the best price, air travelers will be much better off. And we will all be infinitely better off when the government gets out of the business of “keeping us safe” by peeking under our clothes, and gets back to protecting our natural rights as it was originally intended to do. So while free travel and armed pilots might be far off, we should all be grateful of this step in the right direction.

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