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originally posted February 27th, 2012 on

Stories about TSA abuse litter the internet like confetti after a security theater parade. So the fact that Senator Schumer is proposing the addition of passenger advocates at TSA checkpoints is a serious step forward. Unfortunately, Schumer’s press release states that under his plan “TSA would train existing officers in dispute resolution and require the agency to have one TSA officer designated as the on-duty passenger advocate to assist fliers with concerns and complaints at all airports.”

While the passenger-advocate concept is laudable, the implementation defies logic. If the abuses come from within TSA, does it make any sense to continue to trust TSA to ameliorate their own problems?

Secondly, TSA has violated the public trust so deeply that it’s hard to imagine passengers trusting one TSA employee when they are being abused by another. A passenger advocate, from the passenger’s point of view, is just going to look like yet another TSA employee. Or, worse, passengers will continue to mistake the advocate for a law enforcement officer. This is already a  problem because TSA employees are called “officers” and given uniforms that resemble law enforcement uniforms, despite the fact that they are not law enforcement officers.

Finally, if TSA were capable of policing their own, they already would have done it. In order for any advocate to be effective in a checks and balances system, the advocate must have autonomy. Will a TSA passenger advocate employee really be able to stand up to their own boss if it is the supervisor who is being abusive? It’s too much to ask, knowing what we do about human nature and the inclination to submit to authority. Time to dust off the old Milgram study, once again.