Safety Creep: TSA Comes to the Interstate

UPDATE: There is less reason to freak out than previously suspected, although there is still reason to be concerned..

Attention, conservatives! Did you get the latest memo? There’s a new Thing For Conservatives To Be Freaked Out About. The TSA now has checkpoints on Tennessee highways.

Now sometimes conservatives get a little hysterical about all the evil, socialist things that Obama and the government are doing. Remember when the food bill was going to make backyard gardens illegal? Whatever happened to that anyway? But some actions by the government do seem legitimately frightening. (Don’t forget about the Gibson guitar raid.) And with as much reasonableness I can muster, I think this new venture by the TSA is something to be rather concerned about.

It doesn’t help that I already think the TSA is overstepping its bounds when it comes to air travel. Sure, let’s reduce some risk, but considering that there hasn’t been a successful terrorist attack involving a plane in ten years, I’m not sure that the risk that I might be hiding explosive materials next to my genitals is worth the cost of a TSA agent feeling them. But at least I can just avoid planes altogether – although there were rumors about the TSA expanding from planes and onto trains or boats or other forms of transportation.

Then on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 I read about security checkpoints in New York City with officers inspecting trucks and whatnot (now the TSA was not involved as far as I know). I understood the alleged threats of an attack and the desire for safety and everything, but it still made me uneasy. But at least it was a temporary thing in a city far, far away.

But now the TSA is invading Tennessee highways under the guise of “fighting terrorism statewide“:

“Where is a terrorist more apt to be found? Not these days on an airplane more likely on the interstate,” said Tennessee Department of Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons.

This statement is hysterical. Do you have any evidence of this at all, Mr. Gibbons? (And if you’re looking for terrorists, why do you need dogs sniffing for drugs?)

Eight years ago when I was a good little Republican, I used to defend the Patriot Act by saying things like “If you’re doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.” But I’ve come to realize that – when it comes to activities that aren’t breaking any laws but that might lead to breaking laws in the future – my definition of what’s wrong and the state’s definition of what’s wrong may not be the same thing. So I don’t want the government monitoring my emails or phone calls because even if I think I’m doing nothing wrong, that doesn’t necessarily stop the politician or bureaucrat from deciding I’m “suspicious,” especially when the politician or bureaucrat might just be corrupt.

The government can’t protect us from everything. There are large, known risks that are easy enough to reduce, but there comes a point at which the cost of reducing a tiny amount of risk is so great (either in the cost of government enforcement, or the cost of freedom loss to the individual, or both) that it’s not worth the amount of risk that is reduced. The risk that comes with freedom is part of what makes life worth living. Traffic accidents kill over a hundred Americans a day, but we don’t ban driving because the value of having the freedom to go somewhere miles away whenever you need to is worth the risk that you will get in an accident. We can reasonably reduce the risk by requiring driver’s exams and enforcing speed limits and traffic laws, but we simply can’t afford to completely eliminate the risk of a traffic accident from our society.

And that’s something with real risk. Last time I checked, nobody was getting killed by terrorists on the highway, so the TSA isn’t even intruding on our freedoms to fight a real safety risk. They’re intruding on them to fight an imaginary one. And the government can use imaginary risks to do justify doing just about anything.

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