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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, May 24, 2002

Selling Security

There have been many complaints about the security screening system at our nation's airports. A major concern of Underperformin' Norman Mineta is to avoid the appearance of racial profiling or any sense of unfair treatment in the process of selecting people for extra searches. As a result, we have the absurd spectacle of seventy year old grandmothers being subjected to intense scrutiny, wasting time, resources, and credibility.

But why so negative? If people wanted to be picked for the "special shakedown", the whole dynamic would change. If getting picked was cool, or exciting, or rewarded with a special prize, people would be clamoring to be picked. OK, "clamoring" may be a bit strong, so let's say that they would at least not be objecting, or later suing for harassment.

How to achieve this? The simple idea - give the lucky people who are picked for extra screening a lottery ticket. If people can get excited about standing stand in line for hours to buy a lottery ticket, they can get excited about having some Fed hand them a ticket just for submitting to an extra going-over. "I'm just going to check for bombs here, sir - why don't you concentrate on the $50 million you might win."

Obvious problems: Not everyone likes the lotteries, some people have religious or ethical objections to gambling, lotteries are not legal in all states, there would be the expense of buying the tickets - please, there are probably a million problems. Try other prizes - maybe Disney can offer an "instant pass" for a ride on Space Mountain, letting the holder cut to the front of the line at Disney World, for example. The result could be a situation where the government can defend itself against a racial discrimination suit by presenting statistics about who was frisked that are hopelessly muddied by the prospect of prizes. If this works, we can search the people that need to be searched, and we might be on the road to safer skies.

More to follow.
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