Despite the Hype, TSA Pre-Check Does Little to Shift the Status Quo


The TSA announced its new Pre✓ program today that promises to let passengers breeze though security if they have :

volunteered information [that allows the TSA] to make risk assessments before the passenger gets to the airport, and enables our officers to focus more attention on those passengers we know the least about.

This program joins a bevy of other attempts at quick screenings usually aimed at frequent (often wealthier) flyers. The class dynamics of such programs are fascinating. However, though the voluntary nature of the program should soften outrage amongst those who worry about the screening process being an example of an unreasonable search, it does little to shift the nature of security at airports. The TSA is working between a narrow set of constraints; on the one hand they want to implement risk-based assessment to lessen the need for stringent screenings on every passenger. On the other hand, the TSA needs to avoid making such determinations based on profiling (an illegal and potentially dangerous policy the agency has publicly denounced).

All of this suggests an easing of fears as the nation has eclipsed the tenth anniversary of 9/11. While many complain that checking grandma or children at the airport makes little sense, it is easy to forget the tactical nature of terrorism. The threat of terror works by feeling out weak points in systems that feel safe, inverting secure spaces and making them places of terror. Thus, a mood of (in)security creates the affective dimensions of terror as we focus on our lack of safety. This process is dangerous and while we should always be wary of unreasonable procedures, posing a simple dialectic between freedom from unwarranted search and the need for a secure infrastructure is counterproductive and dangerous. The state of (in)security in airports is a dynamic and moving process. Unfortunately, the places where we soften up are most likely to become new places for a tactical inversion (an attack using our resources against us). The problem is that the TSA and its opponents too often become extreme poles of a problem at a time when we need to complicate our discussion of airport (in)security and problematize what security really means, not to mention the perpetual desires for transparency, oversight, and security.



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