Safety First

Oh, come on. Really?

Perhaps you heard that a chunk of the Patriot Act has expired. In particular, the various three letter acronyms can no longer collect massive databases of information about who’s calling who, where everyone is when they call, and how long they talk.

Naturally, the Department of Homeland Security is horrified. “How can we keep America safe from the hordes of terrorists creeping through our infrastructure?” they ask plaintively. Never mind that there are serious doubts about whether those massive databases ever produced any results. Never mind that all of the data is still available. They can go to the phone companies and request exactly the same information at any time.


Keep in mind that this is the same Department of Homeland Security that’s also responsible for the Transportation Security Administration. Yeah, those guys who limit you to three ounce bottles of liquids and make you take off your shoes before you board an airplane. Those guys.

Have you also heard that, according to ABC News, a recent DHS test of airport security resulted in a 95% failure rate? Sixty-seven out of seventy of the test team’s attempts to sneak weapons past the TSA’s checkpoints succeeded.

It’s been said many times that the TSA’s efforts are “security theater,” something that looks good, but doesn’t actually accomplish anything. The ABC report, if true, makes it clear that the Theatrical Security in Airports group isn’t even giving us good theater.

At this point, I’d rather have Caltrans running our national security system than the DHS.

Yes, I complain a lot here about the Bay Bridge, with its massive cost overruns and possible inability to withstand a large earthquake. But even I admit that the bridge is serving its primary function–allowing drivers to get from the East Bay into San Francisco and back again–quite well. And, even with the cost overruns, the bridge still cost less than the $8 billion the TSA spends every year.

Before our elected representatives put together a way for the NSA and its friends to rebuild their phone call databases, shouldn’t they require the NSA to demonstrate how the database is at least better theater than airport “security”? And, before they give the TSA another $8 billion, shouldn’t they require the TSA to get its failure levels up to at least Caltrans’ demonstrated standard?