The TSA’s Photo ID Rules are Useless

The rules that the TSA has rolled out regarding photo IDs and their requirements for getting onto passenger airplanes are usless. In fact, you could argue that they are worse than useless, since they create a false sense of security – and they cost us a lot of money (both directly and indrectly).

But don’t just take my word for it – Bruce Schneier thinks so, too:

…[T]he photo ID requirement is a joke. Anyone on the no-fly list can easily fly whenever he wants. Even worse, the whole concept of matching passenger names against a list of bad guys has negligible security value.

The bottom line is, the no-fly list – and the photo ID rules that go with it – are worthless. It’s all just for show – full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Why people still think it’s a good idea – or worse, that it should be expanded – continues to confound me.

The no-fly list is a Kafkaesque nightmare for the thousands of innocent Americans who are harassed and detained every time they fly. Put on the list by unidentified government officials, they can’t get off. They can’t challenge the TSA about their status or prove their innocence. (The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided this month that no-fly passengers can sue the FBI, but that strategy hasn’t been tried yet.)

But even if these lists were complete and accurate, they wouldn’t work. Timothy McVeigh, the Unabomber, the D.C. snipers, the London subway bombers and most of the 9/11 terrorists weren’t on any list before they committed their terrorist acts. And if a terrorist wants to know if he’s on a list, the TSA has approved a convenient, $100 service that allows him to figure it out: the Clear program, which issues IDs to “trusted travelers” to speed them through security lines. Just apply for a Clear card; if you get one, you’re not on the list.

In the end, the photo ID requirement is based on the myth that we can somehow correlate identity with intent. We can’t. And instead of wasting money trying, we would be far safer as a nation if we invested in intelligence, investigation and emergency response — security measures that aren’t based on a guess about a terrorist target or tactic.

That’s the TSA: Not doing the right things. Not even doing right the things it does.

Maybe we should rename the TSA from the “Transporation Security Agency” to the FGSA – the “Feel Good Security Agency.” Or maybe the SBA – the “Security Blanket Agency.” Because almost everything they do it just to make us “feel better” about security, rather than actually making us more secure.

Feeling secure and actually being secure are two VERY different things. The problem is that feeling secure is easy to wave around come election time. Actually being secure is a bit harder to brag about on the campaign trail.

Sad, but true.

By Keith Survell

A geek, programmer, amateur photographer, anime fan and crazy rabbit person.