If you're under the impression that the Transportation Security Administration tweaks its security procedures in order to fine-tune to a humiliating level of intrusiveness while carefully avoiding even accidentally achieving anything in the way of improved security, you're probably only partially correct. In fact, it pursues that goal within the constraints of its other institutional imperative: avoiding embarrassing high-level officials. Being accused of presiding over an agency that lazily engages in racial profiling, as the TSA recently was in the pages of the New York Times, is embarrassing. So those highly trained security professionals are retraining, refocusing, and now they're really, really interested in learning about your summer vacation.
Over at the ACLU's Blog of Rights, Devon Chaffee writes of her most recent experience passing through airport security in Burlington, Vermont:
The agent then turned to me with grin that was a bit perky for even my taste given the early hour. “So where are you folks off to?” he energetically inquired.
I like to think that I’m a friendly person, so I answered him, expecting a brief innocuous exchange about the Washington DC heat and the scourge of Capitol Hill gridlock. Instead, the agent responded to my answer with a barrage of questions about where in Vermont we had stayed, how long we had traveled, and why we had traveled there. I could feel a suspicious expression involuntarily creep across my face. The New Englander inside me was screaming “you don’t know this person from a hole in the wall and you certainly don’t want to divulge to him the details of your family vacation!” And yet it seemed that the more discomfort I expressed, the more persistent the agent’s questioning became, following us down the line, grilling me unrelentingly about our vacation plans and baggage status.
Chafffee's experience, as she notes, was almost certainly a re-geared version of the "behavior detection" that resulted in charges of racial profiling at Logan Airport in Boston. People clumsy enough to interpret "behavior detection" as "tackle the brown folks" are guaranteed, once redirected, to think that behaving like a sweaty stalker in a corner bar is a cleverly subtle approach to ferreting out evil-doers.
Yeah. Traveling is just becoming more fun every day.