This Wednesday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced that it will begin to randomly swab passenger’s hands and carry-on items at various locations throughout the airport to detect explosives. In the meantime, the widespread use of the controversial body scanners as a replacement for old-fashioned metal detectors is being tested at Tulsa International Airport, with airports in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City preparing to follow this initial experiment within the next two months.

Jim Harper at the Cato Institute reports that “the TSA has done a questionable job of informing the public about what the [body scanner] machines do and – most importantly – of the fact that they’re optional.” Earlier this year, a civil liberties group in Germany earned the term “fleshmobs,” by organizing graphical demonstrations whose participants stripped down to their underwear in protest of the revealing full-body scanners. Their arguments include that  body scanners violate traveler’s rights to privacy and raise child protection issues.

The effectiveness of these enhanced screening procedures remains questionable. Reason Foundation vice-president of research, Adrian Moore, points out that “TSA Airport Security is Always a Step Behind,” as the agency seems to react retroactively to each particular terrorist scenario as it occurs. The author suggests a risk-based approach that would sort passengers into three groups by risk, and that would employ instincts and judgment, similar to techniques employed by police officers, customs, and immigration officials to identify suspicious travelers.

Radley Balko calls for a revamping of the TSA, reporting that “most security experts agree that the rigmarole we go through at the airport is mere security theater, designed not to make us safer, but to make us feel safer by making it increasingly inconvenient to fly.” Recent videos by and the Rick Mercer Report mock TSA inefficiency while raising awareness of the unbearable screening procedures today’s travelers endure.

A Wall Street Journal article from this Thursday quotes psychologist Dr. Goldstein who calls for the government to release more data to justify the effectiveness of enhanced screening.

“They [TSA] want to give the appearance that they are doing something. What would be nice to know is the success rate of various procedures. I think the public has a right to know,” he said.

Dr. Goldstein raises an even more important point, which all of us who believe in limited government should take to heart. As a psychologist, he is astonished with how quickly people seem to adjust to TSA procedures. “You become indoctrinated to this,” he said.

Have we become indoctrinated yet? How much more are we willing to bear from the TSA?

Cato Institute scholar, Jim Harper suggests a more radical, and yet sensible,  approach to handling airport security.

Instead of this lumpy, government-provided airline security, […] “Airlines should be given clear responsibility for their own security and clear liability should they fail. Under these conditions, airlines would provide security, along with the best mix of privacy, savings, and convenience, in the best possible way.”

TSA is not balancing all these interests well. Government agencies are terrible at responding to consumers compared to businesses, whose bottom lines rely on it. [The] fix to this problem is to rethink aviation security from the ground up. The TSA should be eliminated.

The proposal to eliminate the TSA by replacing it with a market-based model for airline security, that takes into consideration the private interests airlines have to provide security to their employees and customers, is certainly worth considering.