Schneier: Fix US airport security by making TSA more transparent

Bruce Schneier has an extensive, must-read blog post up today about how to fix what's wrong with air security in America. The shortest version of what he recommends to the Obama administration: "Establish accountability and transparency for airport screening." And, in a second sentence: "Airports are one of the places where Americans, and visitors to America, are most likely to interact with a law enforcement officer - and yet no one knows what rights travelers have or how to exercise those rights."

Here's more from his essay:

Let's start with the no-fly and watch lists. Right now, everything about them is secret: You can't find out if you're on one, or who put you there and why, and you can't clear your name if you're innocent. This Kafkaesque scenario is so un-American it's embarrassing. Obama should make the no-fly list subject to judicial review.

Then, move on to the checkpoints themselves. What are our rights? What powers do the TSA officers have? If we're asked "friendly" questions by behavioral detection officers, are we allowed not to answer? If we object to the rough handling of ourselves or our belongings, can the TSA official retaliate against us by putting us on a watch list? Obama should make the rules clear and explicit, and allow people to bring legal action against the TSA for violating those rules; otherwise, airport checkpoints will remain a Constitution-free zone in our country.

Next, Obama should refuse to use unfunded mandates to sneak expensive security measures past Congress. The Secure Flight program is the worst offender.

Fixing Airport Security (Schneier on Security)


  1. Don’t you know Takuan that without the TSA at the airport, the terrorists will win!! And chaos and disorder will reign! Cats and Dogs living together, MASS HYSTERIA!!!!

    Seriously though, I thought the way the TSA was making air travel safe was by making it so damn annoying to get through the airport, that people would give up on flying. The last few times I flew and was taking off my shoes and getting my laptop out of it’s bag, I was thinking “All we need is a clown and a lion tamer and it will be a proper circus”.

  2. not too late for the beans protest. Everyone going though security theater tank up on beans and garlic mussels with extra beer and popcorn and let them know what you really think. Wear a respirator.

  3. Air Marshals and secure cockpit doors have made TSA pointless, except that instead of airlines are no longer catching hell for being late.

  4. Were we ever actually told how Senator Kennedy, who has been flying since the mid-1960s I assume, got on the No Fly List that time? (And if we were told “accidental” well that’s not an answer at all.)

  5. No way….I WANT Obama screwing with Repugs who spread lies and negativity.

    They did it to a bunch of us, so why not?

  6. *If* the US govt. were serious about security, Bruce Schneier would be made the Security Czar. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have a degree in Security Theater, which is a prerequisite.

  7. From the American perspective:

    “This Kafkaesque scenario is so un-American it’s embarrassing.”

    From the perspective of the rest of the world:

    “This Kafkaesque scenario is so un-American it’s pathetic.”

    Time to man up, O-train.

  8. Schneier old buddy old pal… if you are reading this, I implore you to write an article about the fact that we are one little terror attack away from going bat shit crazy again in this country.

    Seriously, we aren’t having any sort of meaningful discussion about what we learned from our post-911 behavior, nor are we talking about what we will do in the inevitable event of the next attack.

    Which means freedom is on borrowed time. I cannot begin to articulate just how important I think these points are.

  9. @astrochimp

    Still wrong:
    ” From the perspective of the rest of the world:
    ‘This Kafkaesque scenario is so un-American it’s pathetic.'”

    This would read:

    From the perspective of the rest of the world:
    “This Kafkaesque scenario is so typical American, it’s control-freakish.”

  10. What’s wrong with airport security is that it’s not secure. It was never intended to be. It was only intended to make people THINK it was secure. In other words we have security theater, not actual security.

    There is no way to fix TSA. It is a blatant violation of the constitution.

  11. I’m not American, I’ve only ever visited the United States once in my life, and that was in mid 2001. I fell in love with New York City and would dearly love to visit again, possibly with a side visit to friends on the West Coast. I’ve more free time & disposable income than I had previously, an easy manner not prone to paranoia, and nothing of my life could be of even the remotest interest to any authority or intelligence agency in any country.

    And yet, and yet…

    Everything of the actions of the TSA over the last 8 years has reduced my confidence in flying into the States to that of a conspiracy theory-subscribing basement dweller. There is now ample evidence (and multiple examples) of just about every possible kind of person being inconvenienced, harassed and threatened by TSA staff for reasons that remain suspect at best, or are flagrant and illegal abuses of power at worst. I know I will remain hesitant to visit until meaningful changes are made to the way the TSA operates, and I know I’m not the only potential visitor to the States that feels this way.

    The saddest part? I actually considered posting this anonymously instead of using my BoingBoing account name for fear of ending up on a no-fly list courtesy of a an evil TSA agent with surprisingly good taste in blogs. Pass the tinfoil please, I need to make myself a hat.

  12. XOPL is full of win. That is the level on which all rational persons need to be thinking.

    Entirely separately, I long for the days when calling something a “constitution free zone” is a motivating insult. I mean, seriously… how many do we have going? Free speech zones, Gitmo, airports, etc.

  13. XOPL, I’ll tell you what we’ll do if we are attacked again: screaming for George W Bush to be put on trial, because the attack will be 100% due to his making the world hate us.

    Not one tiny bit of the attack will be attributable to anything but Bush, and I intend to do nothing but scream it at every Repuke I know until they admit their crime (of voting for the monster) and do something concrete to repent.

    Obama will handle the actual reaction, and I trust him to do it…that’s what we elected him to do. If he needs to temporarily suspend some limited rights, that’s fine with me. There are no rights for dead people.

  14. And what would you guys have them do?

    As poster #12 said, “we are one little terror attack away from going bat shit crazy again in this country”.

    The DHS and US Govt are in a lose-lose situation. Increase travel security measures (I understand the Coast Guard is getting positively medieval about boat entries)and get the world pissed off at you, but let just one terrorist act occur on an airliner, and guess who’s screaming that not enough was done?

    Don’t like it? Don’t fly. It’s that simple.

  15. @17 And what would you guys have them do?

    I would like them to post numbers that prove that the tactics they use work. If the TSA can conclusively say that all that they do has significantly improved our safety, then I, personally, will back off, and I’d bet a lot of other people would too. These numbers need to be in terms of “terrorists caught” and not “pocket knives confiscated” though, to be regarded.

  16. Anonymous,

    “Obama will handle the actual reaction, and I trust him to do it…that’s what we elected him to do. If he needs to temporarily suspend some limited rights, that’s fine with me. There are no rights for dead people.”

    Wrong. You lose.

  17. Airports were designed to permit families and friends to be present at the arriving docking gates to welcome or say goodbye to travelers. Today’s new regulations work against the intended design by keeping the population at the main ticketing lobby.
    The dissonance between the design v. the actual use of airports is what makes air travel a less enjoyable experience.

  18. when i was at the airport in boston this man that put his belongings into the x-ray before me had a gun in his bag. Everything stopped and all these men and police came. the man was arrested and I would like to let you know that the TSA officer who found the gun on the xray might have saved someone’s life.

  19. The United States could just satirically stop killing hundreds of thousands of innocent people across the world, occupying countries on whimsical pretenses to do with their domestic politics and their proximity to mineral wealth;

    Amending their ‘Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass’ world view to understand people only mean you harm because you cause them harm wouldn’t go amiss either

    Finally amending your foreign policies so people in foreign countries do not seek revenge at any cost at some future date because you liquidated several of their family members, would probably mean that you could cut down on airport security a bit.

    But then, it’s a crazy world and the average US citizen is too stupid to do the calculus, because you don’t have any money left to educate your children because you bankrupted yourself, invading foreign countries, and would rather bitch about waiting in queues at airports.

    It’s a very cyclical argument….

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