News has leaked out that the TSA has now started keeping its own special ‘watch list’ of people it doesn’t like.
Like so much to do with the TSA, this watch-list is more charade than reality. Being on the watch-list apparently means nothing – you are not selected for additional screening, and are not prevented from flying.
But it does mean you get ‘stink-eye’ from TSA officers, and if there’s an ambiguity they can exploit to make your passage through screening more ‘eventful’, there’s every reason to think they will, because that seems the only possible purpose of this list – to identify people to hassle.
Like many other watch-lists, it is ultra-top-secret, and there is no known way to find out if you are on it, or to appeal your inclusion and seek a review and removal. To get placed on the watch-list, you need to be deemed a ‘potential threat’ by some unaccountable TSA employee. What does being a potential threat mean? It means you may have appeared unruly when going through screening in the past, or swatted away a screener’s hands, or in some other way created “challenges to the safe and effective completion of screening” or simply “loitered suspiciously near security checkpoints”. We guess that means not to wait for anyone you’re traveling with to also emerge through their screening experience, but rather to quickly move as far away and safely out of sight as possible.
None of these behaviors are illegal, they are merely things the TSA doesn’t like. So, you get on the list not for breaking any laws, not even for the suspicion of breaking laws in the past, present or future, but just because the TSA takes a disliking to you.
What does happen if you’re on the list? No-one knows. Why are the TSA maintaining it if there is no official consequence for being on it? Again, no-one knows, which in some ways is even more scary than there being an official stated outcome.
So, should we even care if we’re on that list? Does it matter at all? We’d suggest yes, because when we start having government departments, are already blessed with an enormous amount of discretionary power, creating lists of people they don’t like, based on nothing other than their own subjective and delicate feelings, sooner or later, those lists will not only multiply further, but will suddenly start having unexpected consequences.
You might find that you fail a future Secret or higher level security clearance. Or perhaps be passed over for a promotion you were expecting.
And, noting there have been proposals before that people on the various other watch-lists should not be allowed to purchase firearms, you might suddenly find yourself unable to buy firearms, due to a reason that can’t be shared with you, and due to an original “offense” on your part that was in no way illegal, totally unrelated to anything to do with firearms or public safety, and which you’re unlikely to remember, let alone be able to explain.
You’re guilty until proven innocent, and not even given a fair chance to struggle to prove the negative, that you never did anything wrong.
Officially, the TSA says there are only ‘about’ 50 names on the list, but “two other government security officials who are familiar with the new watch list, describing it on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it, said that the number of names on the list could be higher, with travelers added daily”. In other words, it might be 50, or it might be 50,000.
As this article points out, the TSA is not an intelligence gathering service. It is merely a bunch of rent-a-cop security screeners, required to do nothing more than stare at X-ray screens and listen in case a metal detector beeps. But they are dangerously eager to boost their powers and their self-importance. Remember the fuss over their uniforms – how they first had simple shirts with the letters TSA on them, then added embroidered shield badges, and now wear ‘real’ shield badges.
Consider all their attempts to expand into other areas – their “VIPR” teams ridiculously staging showy interventions on occasion, with plenty of press invited to watch. Or their “Behaviour Detection Officers” – a ten-year multi-billion dollar program that has resulted in utterly zero success. Or their various forays into new types of bomb detecting technology, all failures, and now gathering dust unused, in cavernous government warehouses.
Here’s a suggestion for the TSA. Why not create a watch-list of your own employees – the ones who steal passenger belongings, who break things, who smuggle drugs, who provide rude and surly service, as well as the ones with an impressive variety of criminal convictions who you somehow still decide to employ.
Police yourselves before you start worrying about us. Best of all, please just focus on your X-ray screens and listening for metal detector beeps.