I had some time to think recently about our government's fixation with security. That was during a 45-minute wait to clear security on a Monday morning at the St. Louis airport. Part of the issue was what I (and I suspect hundreds of other travelers) saw as the Transportation Security Administration's (TSA) misalignment of resources—one agent for TSA PreCheck travelers, one for Southwest Airlines' elite status travelers, and one for the hordes (which included me).
But part of the issue goes back to the basic fear that seems to underlie some of the government's more extreme security initiatives. Don't get me wrong—I'm as interested as anyone else in seeing that my flight is safe from terrorist attack. But consider: We take off our shoes because of a single effort to smuggle a bomb in shoes—an attempt that failed. We go through a full-body scan because of a single effort to hide explosives in underwear, which also failed. We are limited to three-ounce bottles of liquids because of a potential bomb threat that never, literally and figuratively, got off the ground. Now we know that our government spies on every last one of us through the invasive National Security Agency (NSA). In the security arena, it seems, we've turned the American justice system on its head. Each of us is presumed guilty.
The airline security checks perhaps can be accepted as a major inconvenience. The NSA intrusiveness is to my mind a much greater threat to our democratic ideals. Yet another major requirement in the growing security web threatens the overall health of our import-dependent economy. In 2006, Congress mandated scanning of all maritime containers bound for the U.S. That requirement has not been implemented as of yet. Fortunately, this time, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) appears to have made a sensible judgment. Jeh Johnson, the DHS secretary, sent a letter to Sen. Tom Carper, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, saying he would extend the deadline for implementing the rule for another two years. In the letter, he said the department's ability to comply with the requirement was "highly improbable," "hugely expensive," and "not the best use of taxpayer resources."
That extension was good news for the nation's importers and their customers—that is, just about every one of us. Some 70 business organizations, including the National Retail Federation, American Trucking Associations, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent Johnson a letter supporting that decision. More critically, that letter urged continuation of the risk-based approach to cargo screening currently used by the DHS and called for Congress to repeal the 100-percent scanning requirement. Congress should do so.