Transportation Security Administration Administrator John Pistole touted on Tuesday the expansion of TSA's extortion racket-style program known as the PreCheck. Pistole’s comments were part of his testimony at the US House of Representatives before the Homeland Security Subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee.
Under PreCheck, travelers in airports who have taken steps including paying $85, giving over their fingerprints, and obtaining TSA approval of their background checks have a chance -- but no guarantee -- that TSA employees will, over a five year term, harass them a bit less than other travelers.
Pistole recounts in his prepared statement some of the metrics of PreCheck’s expansion:
To accommodate TSA’s expansion of program eligibility to a greater number of low-risk passengers, TSA has taken the following actions: expanded the number of airports participating in TSA PreCheck from the initial 40 to 117 airports; increased the number of expedited screening lanes from 46 to 600, with each lane providing the capability for doubling hourly throughput; and increased the number of U.S. airlines participating in TSA PreCheck from six to nine in FY 2013, with plans of continued expansion as airlines are ready. Today, TSA provides expedited screening to over 35% of the traveling public.
PreCheck is just like the old extortion rackets of hooligans selling protection from themselves to store owners and raiders from the countryside demanding that residents of a town pay tribute. Dressed up in the language of law, regulation, and formal application procedures this abusive practice develops a veneer of legitimacy. At its heart, though, the practice is the same whether conducted by a street gang or the TSA: pay us money and do as we say so you may avoid being abused. In the case of the TSA, the offered benefit is limiting the extent of invasive frisking and property searches conducted without even the pretense of the probable cause required under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.
While it may sound extreme to call TSA’s regular airport activities criminal, and its PreCheck program thus an extortion racket, the US government recognizes that TSA’s regular activities would be criminal but for the special protection TSA has as part of the national police apparatus. When legislation to remove TSA employees’ protection from prosecution for their routine on-the-job offensive touches passed the Texas House and appeared about to pass the state Senate in 2011, the US Department of Justice responded with a threat to end all commercial passenger flights through Texas airports given that the legislation would make routine TSA activities illegal.
Fingerprinting, background checks, applications, and $85 are a price many people are willing to pay in the hopes of avoiding some of the enhanced harassment that infuriates travelers in American airports. Yet, once enough people have applied to the PreCheck program, we must wonder if the US government then will make PreCheck participation a requirement for all travelers while eliminating every bit of relief from harassment the program may now provide.