I've never been very fond of the use of Benjamin Franklin's old aphorism that "Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither." For one, it reveals the sort of childish refusal to confront the reality of tradeoffs that I usually associate with the most naive of leftwing economists. For another, it's actually a misquote, since what Franklin said is that "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." That is true, but rather uninteresting. Almost by definition it makes no sense to give up something "essential" for something "temporary". As guidance, this is worthless, since it just kicks the problem down the road: What is essential, anyway?
I bring this up because the attempted Christmas airplane bombing has brought these up these issues once again. The TSA, as you would expect, have chosen to fight the last war, first outlawing standing during the last hour of flight, then going to a "follow the crew's directions" standard.
But there are technologies that apparently would have stopped this kind of bombing. Namely, backscatter X-Rays, which produce images like this:
Now, according to the people who want to use these, the images wouldn't be kept, and would be viewed by someone in a different room than you. Some people have claimed the images would inevitably end up on the internet. If you're really worried that an image than kinda looks like an outline of you, but can't possibly be identified as you, could end up being viewed by someone, I really think you should find something better to worry about. This hardly strikes me as worse than removing shoes, which I've already declared as a triviality to me. (And honestly, what kind of moron would look at these things instead of good, honest porn anyway? Am I alone in thinking these things are utterly boring as "revealing" images?)
Jonah Goldberg nails it here:
Anyone who flies regularly will tell you, the hellishness of airline travel is not primarily derived from the outrage of lost privacy, it's derived from the outrage of inefficient, time-consuming, idiocy.
He's right. The problem of security is not that someone, somewhere, might get to see something that kindasortanotreally looks like a naked picture. The problem is it's slow, inefficient, and unhelpful.
So let's have two lines. One for people whose irrational hangups lead to nightmarish lines and delays. And those of us who are adults can get to where we are going.
Or, better yet, we could let the market decide what security people want. But I don't see that happening.