Should Congress be allowed to skip airport security?

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AP reports that TSA is considering significantly relaxing airplane security rules. They're also considering letting some classes of people skip airport security screenings:

The Aug. 5 memo recommends reducing patdowns by giving screeners the discretion not to search those wearing tight-fitting clothes. It also suggests exempting several categories of passengers from screening, including federal judges, members of Congress, Cabinet members, state governors, high-ranking military officers and those with high-level security clearances.

The argument in favor of this is, of course, that people like this are pretty good security risks. It's probably not easy to get elected to Congress if you're an Al Qaeda sleeper agent, and even if you were, it's not worth wasting an asset like that on a simple airplane hijacking. So, actual Congressmen are probably safe as a practical matter.

However, creating a complete exemption from security screening for one class of people suddenly makes it very attractive to be a member of that class. This raises the question of how hard it really is to impersonate someone in that class. There are 535 members of Congress and plenty of federal judges and people with high-ranking clearances. There's no way that screeners are going to know these people by sight, so they'll be checking ID. It's probably not that hard to forge one of these IDs well enough to pass a cursory security check at the airport.

Even if we ignore the security issue, there's an issue of principle and incentives. The current security screening in this country is fairly onerous and Congress is charged with overseeing that. If those restrictions are too onerous for Congressmen to endure, then why aren't they too onerous for the rest of us. On the other hand, if Congress is exempt from these restrictions, what incentive do your representatives have to value people's inconvenience appropriately?

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I say screen 'em! from aTypical Joe: A gay New Yorker living in the rural south. on August 15, 2005 4:11 AM

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A: They still don't screen the ground workers, which have been responsible for at least one fatal crash when a ground worker (just fired, but ID was still valid) smuggled a gun onboard and shot the flight crew.

B: Those with privilidge have been waiving security requirements on themselves for a hell of a long time. This is yet another example, but hardly the most agregious. Frankly, Reagan National is an even bigger threat (think about the false-positive problem on the Pentagon's missile battery), but Congresscritters don't want to have to take a cab from Dullis.

C: The "security clearance" bit is the big one. What is the ID for that? How does one forge it? (Probably pretty easily).

Frankly, I hope this dies in flames. One of the few reasons we have had some reform on TSA watchlist issues is because Ted Kennedy got on the list.

You may be interested in this set of comments replying to someone surprised about the lack of security for private jets. They range from amusingly naive ("good upstanding citizens") to defensive to strange. Basically, though, they come down to: the rules for plebs don't apply to the rich.

That the rules for plebs don't apply to the powerful should not be a big surprise either. What is odd about this is the effort to get it written into law--in most cases the staff of the congressman/justice/whatever would simply ask the airport for VIP treatment, including the airline rep walk-through that puts them at the head of all lines. Sure the TSA may still pass their bags, but they won't get pat-downs or other than glancing treatment.

I suspect that these requests are either getting turned down or are not getting met adequately for the desires of those not actually powerful enough to merit the attention. That is, it isn't the truly powerful who are requesting this, but the middle-management of the administration. Certainly a high-level security clearance doesn't make you powerful enough to warrant VIP treatment; the question is: does it make you valuable enough to the truly powerful to get them to wave you through into their party?

Let's hope not, for the good of egalitarianism as well as security.

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