TSA Outcry Is Really a Call for Profiling

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Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty

By Eugene Robinson

It's hard to love the Transportation Security Administration, especially now that airport personnel seem so intent on touching people's junk. But the TSA's job isn't to be adorable, it's to be infallible -- and, apparently, to suffer being unfairly maligned.

Sure, the "Don't touch my junk" guy touched a nerve. I spend enough time fighting my way through airport security lines to share his frustration at ever-changing procedures that seem capricious, intrusive and sometimes just bizarre. But what, specifically, is the alternative?

Last Christmas, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried to bring down an airliner by detonating explosives concealed in his underwear. The device did not properly explode, but the incident sensitized the TSA to the danger of bombs that might make it past a metal detector -- hence the rush to install full-body scanners that give a clear view of what's beneath a person's clothing, junk and all.

An unacceptable, un-American invasion of privacy? That's not what critics were saying at the time. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's assessment of the underwear bombing attempt -- that "the system worked" because a fellow passenger jumped Abdulmutallab -- was ridiculed. If there was technology that could have detected the underpants device, critics asked, why hadn't it been in place?

So now the scanners are being installed -- and some people complain that they do too good a job, clear-picture-wise. The TSA's response is to give travelers the option of submitting to a manual search that is comparably thorough. It would defeat the whole purpose of the machines if people could just say "No thanks" and then undergo a cursory search that might leave a device like the underwear bomb undiscovered. The pat-down, if it comes to that, has to be thorough.

Is all of this really necessary? That depends on how safe we want to be, or rather how safe we want to feel.

Read the rest of this article at the Washington Post.

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