To DougJ’s pointL: no Blackwater is not the best example of private airport security. The best example is the private airport security which existed for decades prior to 9/11. We don’t need an analogy. The airlines were in charge of security – not the government. Blackwater, on the other hand, is a private military contractor hired by the government.
Also, airport security is not a police function. Airport security could not arrest you or charge you with a crime, they could only detain you until law enforcement arrived. Airport security traditionally worked with law enforcement but not as law enforcement. Blackwater and other mercenary groups too often cross the line into actual combat roles that ought to be handled by government troops. Big difference. And no, again, police forces should not be privatized. Police forces enforce the law, they are an integral part of the justice system. The TSA, like the private firms before them, does not enforce the law. They screen passengers. If there’s a problem, they call in law enforcement to make an arrest. A police force is part of our legal system and, like prisons, our legal system cannot be privatized because it undermines the point of the legal system in the first place. Airport security guards and baggage screeners are not part of the legal system. This is a strawman.
Also, no, there is no need for a TSA-like organization. None. Get rid of it completely. The government can write security regulations without it and they can be enforced without it.
To John’s point: again no. This is a false comparison. The airlines would be in charge of picking their own security firms, not the government. If the government isn’t awarding the contract, then there is no way – no way in a million bloody years – that it can be called a state-sanctioned monopoly. If I pick someone to provide security for my home, I am not creating a state-sanctioned monopoly. If US Airways picks the Super Best Friends to conduct security for them, this is also not a state-sanctioned monopoly. The airlines choosing who provides security for their passengers is not in any remote way the same thing as the government deciding who provides trash collection services.
Again – private security firms handled airports prior to 9/11. All this hullabaloo over ‘libertarian fantasies’ and ‘privatization schemes’ is nonsense. We have decades of actual history to point to. This is not an abstract Hayekian idea. It is a matter of historical record. Whether in practice private firms would be any less intrusive than the TSA in a post-9/11 world is another question: they might not be. They might have no choice depending on the legal framework they had to deal with. But the TSA is already far too intrusive and will only become more and more politically entrenched. I’m willing to take chances.
P.S. Mark Thompson makes some good points about the ‘quasi-government’ nature of airports which I think is true and important – I envision airlines themselves having some say in the security process, but perhaps this would all boil down to airports instead and the sweetheart deals that mistermix mentioned, in which case, yeah this could turn into a state-sanctioned or semi-state-sanctioned monopoly pretty quickly with all its inherent flaws. Not good, of course, but I do think there are ways to improve this process.
However, I still think the worst abuses we’ve seen have occurred under the overtly government agency of the TSA, not under the privatized regime in the pre-9/11 world. Privatization is not a magic bullet here, as I’ve mentioned before, but I think the TSA has to go, magic bullets be damned. The post-9/11 privatized security might have many of the same problems the TSA has. I would like to just go back to all the old rules, whether that the guys in the uniforms are working for the TSA or private firms. Maybe it’s naive to think we can ever do that, TSA or no. But the TSA is only going to be a problem. If you disagree, well, tell that to the future President Dick Cheney. (And yes, someday the Republicans will be in charge of the TSA again.)
Thompson also objects to the Israeli model of profiling because he thinks it isn’t scalable. I disagree. Basically all you need is to have security trained to spot behavioral indicators. You put up quick check-points at the entrances to the airports and parking lots where guards briefly chat with travelers. Anyone that seems suspicious based on purely behavioral indicators is flagged by security before they ever reach the baggage checkers – maybe before they even reach the airport itself. This is based not on random or arbitrary screening, but on profiling how people act. Not on their skin color, religion, etc. but on any nervous ticks or signs of stress beyond what is normal. It can be done. It’s done all the time anyways, just not in an organized, efficient, or official way.
P.P.S. I would like to modify my position to: “We’re all screwed.” Probably the most compelling argument against private security and against abolishing the TSA is that due to the post-9/11 American fear mindset, we will always be willing to let people trample all over our liberties and privacy in order to remain safe, whether it is a government agency or a private one. So we might as well grin and bear it, safe in the knowledge that our children, at least, will have no awareness of anything else. To them, severe pat downs and naked scanners will be just another normal inconvenience – probably a lot less intrusive than whatever other security measures are dreamed up in the next ten or twenty years.