Ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, fear of flying has been a constant presence in the western world. Immediately following the attacks, the luxuries to which most of us had been accustomed, such as being able to accompany loved ones right up the gate, went away in the name of safety. Private security screeners were replaced with the new bureaucracy known as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA.) Everyone was relieved that something, at least, had been done, although it is doubtful whether any of us actually felt much safer.
The changes to security didn’t stop there. Soon, passengers were being asked to take off their shoes. After that, containers of more than three ounces of liquid were deemed verboten. So much for that badly needed mid-flight tipple. There had been no more plane related tragedies (a couple of poorly conceived, poorly executed failures such as the underwear bomber notwithstanding) yet no matter how much we tightened security, it never seemed to be enough.
Next came the full body scanners. With metal detectors no longer regarded as sufficient, TSA agents would now be given a full-on nude show of every passenger, with the notable exception of those who opted about and were instead treated to a handsy patdown. Did these measures make us safer? This seemed to be the operating assumption, although data actually backing up the claims remained scarce. All frequent flyers knew was that air travel had become increasingly unpleasant and invasive and maybe – just maybe – a tiny bit safer.
Thirteen years later, the TSA’s iron-fisted grip on airport security continues to tighten. But the TSA, being a national organization controlled by the American government, is still faced with one aspect of transportation they can’t control – international travel. That is, until now.
Realizing that they are powerless to regulate the security measures in foreign airports, the TSA is now entering the realm of diplomatic relations, attempting of impose regulations on foreign airports in order to ensure uniform standards of security. The move was prompted by worries – not actual events, but worries – that hostile militants in Syria and other countries could hijack planes originating in Britain en route to the United States. It’s yet another step towards the progressive vision of world government, where there is no escaping the long arm of a central regulatory agency. Additionally, the TSA is also banning cell phones with dead batteries.
All this is in spite of the fact that there has not been a successful hijacking in over a decade, nor can there be. It is important to remember that the 9/11 hijackers were armed not with assault weapons, but with measly box cutters, and the only reason they were able to convince the pilots to carry out their demands was by using their belief that compliance would result in survival, a belief no one in the developed world will ever share again.
Yet, airport security keeps getting tightened, ineffectively, over imagined threats. Most other countries still use private security teams which are more effective, less costly, and less intrusive to passengers. The claims that the TSA has made us safer rest on an unprovable, unfalsifiable hypothesis of “prevented attacks.” The counterfactual is and always must be unknown, yet it is treated like fact in order to justify government intervention.
If we provably stop an attack, government regulators will argue that this proves we require tighter security. If, on the other hand, an attack succeeds, they will reach exactly the same conclusion. There is no situation that can possibly result in loosened security or the conclusion that we have done enough and need do no more.
This is the insidious nature of regulations grounded in fear. Once they take hold, there is rarely any going back, and no evidence will ever be enough to convince government to give up a little security in the name of liberty.