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Amid Airport-Security Backlash, a Push to Privatize Pat-Downs

by Cathal Kelly

In time-honoured American fashion, anger has begun to transform into politically charged and ultimately pointless change.

An airport security measure demonstrates a full body scanner at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York. (AFP/Getty Images/File/Michael Nagle) U.S. air travellers continue to push back against “nude” scanners and “enhanced” pat-downs. They’ve settled on their villain: the Transportation Security Administration. The TSA sets the rules. They also staff the vast majority of the checkpoints.

High-profile Florida Congressman John Mica wants to change one of those things. He’s behind a push to kick most TSA staffers out of Orlando’s Sanford International Airport and replace them with private security contractors.

Mica is a long-time TSA foe. The Republican is also the likely next head of the powerful House Transportation committee. Earlier this year, Mica sent a letter to a hundred U.S. airports urging them to privatize security.

“I think we could use half the personnel and streamline the system,” Mica said Wednesday.

Several firms that stand to earn millions on those new security contracts have made significant campaign contributions to Mica, The Associated Press pointed out.

Orlando’s Sanford Airport Authority will apparently be the first. It has announced plans to end its contract with the TSA and replace screeners beginning in January, pending a review.

However, the TSA has pointed out that while airports may replace their staffers, the new security workers still have to abide by TSA regulations. That means nude scanners and regular gropings no matter who mans the checkpoints.

Parenthetically, it would seem that public crotch grabbing has been going on in America’s airports for much longer than the past few weeks. A 2002 blog post on the subject by magician Penn Jillette, of Penn and Teller, has been resuscitated in recent days.

Texas lawmaker Ron Paul is also trying to make a meal of the issue, introducing the “American Traveler Dignity Act.”

“My legislation is simple,” Paul said. “It establishes that airport security screeners are not immune from any U.S. law regarding physical contact with another person, making images of another person, or causing physical harm through the use of radiation-emitting machinery on another person. It means they are subject to the same laws as the rest of us.”

But does that mean they can’t “do” security? This bill appears to muddy the waters further. Paul’s ultimate goal is the same as Mica’s: privatization.

No one with any power has yet taken on the security measures themselves – or their efficacy – rightly fearing they might be portrayed as soft on terrorism.

Instead, Mica and the like are singling out that old American bogeyman, Big Government, currently disguised as the TSA.

“Competition drives accountability. It drives efficiency. It drives a particular approach to your airport,” Sanford Airport Authority CEO Larry Dale said. “That company is just going to be looking at you. They're not going to be driven out of Washington. They will be driven out of here.”

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