Improving TSA`s Ethical and Privacy Standards through Private-Public Partnership Abstract

ImprovingTSA’s Ethical and Privacy Standards through Private-PublicPartnership


Theresearch identified and researched on ethical, privacy, andeffectiveness concerns with the TSA airport screening measures.Serious problem was found in the screening tools, which emittedradiations in order to reveal concealed contrabands. The radiationswere found to pose long-term health effects, while the virtual stripsinfringed upon individual privacy, while subjecting travelers tohumiliating body searches and pat downs. Additionally, the TSA wasfound to have absolute rights in contracting screening partners, anissue that elicited conflicts with airports, while being numerouslyblamed for inefficiencies, poor technology uses, and inconveniencingthe universal airport mandates. Despite the problems, the researchcollected evidence that demonstrated past collaborations between thepublic and private sectors. The evidence was proposed for applicationin the current airport security situation. Some of the findingsincluded increased integration, employee motivation, human resourcesharing, exchange of information, and technological advancement. Theresearch found that private-public partnership would enhance servicedelivery, including use of safer and less intrusive technologies, forexample, millimeter-wave systems. It would increase efficiency andestablish a customer-oriented experience, hence helping inalleviating the privacy, health, and ethical concerns. One of therecommendations was reevaluation of the contracting policy to empowerairports, rather than TSA in contracting rights.

ImprovingTSA’s Ethical and Privacy Standards through Private-PublicPartnership

Afterthe terrorist attack on September 9, 2001, the congress authorizedand legalized an independent agency, Transport Security Agency (TSA),to facilitate and strengthen security strategies in all airports. TheTSA was to strengthen screening practices by introducing advancedscreening technologies, which were meant to detect concealedcontrabands. However, the screening process has been marred bycontroversies arising from privacy breach, data protection, anddelays caused by the screening technologies. Additionally, ethicaland health concerns have been raised over virtual stripping ofpassengers and exposure to harmful emissions. Other concerns includeinefficiencies that cause long queues, and conflicts of interestbetween TSA and airports. Amidst these controversies, TSA hasreportedly foiled several terror attempts using its current screeningstrategies and technologies. In fact, TSA’s efforts have created aculture of safety among air travelers. The monotony of TSA operationsrequire some changes to enhance safety, improve customers’ trust,and address the current ethical and privacy concerns. One of the waysthrough which national agencies have been known to improve efficiencyand service delivery has been privatization. Busch and Givens (2012,p. 3) identify a series of successful collaborations between thegovernment and the private sector during the Hurricane Katrinaevacuations and 9/11 terror attack. During these incidences, thesecurity agencies received a huge boost from the private sector interms of technologies, human resource, and information. Additionally,shared infrastructures enhanced efficiency and improved quality ofservices delivered. The research seeks to investigate whetherpublic-private corporations can improve service delivery byintroducing safer and efficient technologies, share resource, andcreate a customer-oriented culture in airport screening practices.


Theresearch paper, ‘Body scanners vs. privacy and data protection’by Olga Mironeko (2011) evaluates the strategies that have beenadopted to enhance public safety, after a series of global terroristactivities. The US, among other European states has emerged as majortargets, hence formulating stringiest measures to curb terroristthreats. Mironeko observes a series of security measures, one ofwhich includes advanced imagine technology. Additionally, theresearcher identifies the failure by The International Civil AviationOrganization (ICAO), a specialized UN agency, to regulate andstandardize body-scanning technologies (Mironeko, 2001, p. 1).Specifically, the researcher evaluates the American trend in securingits citizens through the Transport Aviation Authority (TSA) since2001. Amidst the objectives of securing borders and travel using theadvanced scanning technologies, Mironeko examines the ethicalimplications of these security measures in terms of privacy and dataprotection. She observes a serious breach to human privacy, freedom,and exposure of the public to harmful radiations from searchmachines. She cites several legal conventions, among them, theUniversal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (UDHR), whichemphasizes on human privacy, dignity, and respect for private andfamily life (p. 5). The x-ray scans and ATI machine scans conductvirtual strips, thus infringing individual privacy in an environmentthat does not hold the government liable or responsible for itsactions. Similarly, the author states that objections to the currentscanning strategies lead to interferences to freedom of movement. Theauthor calls for the enactment of global rules and policies tostandardize searches to protect personal data and enhance privacy.Mironeko concludes by making recommendations to new legal, policiesand technical measures on the adoption and use of body scans.

Mironeko’sarguments correlate with a research by Julie Accardo and AhmadChaudhry, ‘Radiation exposure and privacy concerns surroundingfull-body scanners in airports’ (2014), who focus on the increasingairport security measures in response to several terror attacks andthreats. Accardo and Chaudhry are specifically concerned about theexposure rate of citizens to radiations from the airport enhancedscreening systems. The researchers examine the sincerity of concernsfrom the public in terms of privacy and health. Although the advancedtechnologies enable TSA officials to detect and identify concealedcontrabands, they expose passengers to radiations, while infringingpassenger’s rights to privacy. The radiation-emitting systems arereferred to as backscatters due to the small amounts of X-raysgenerated during a scanning process (Accardo &amp Chaudhry, 2014, p.199). In addition to backscatters, some airports have millimeter-wavesystems, which are less radioactive. Accardo and Chaudhry argue thatdespite lack of enough information on aviation screeningtechnologies, governments and other major players consider the newtechnology as more efficient in securing aviation transport sector.The authors observe the need to readjust screening measures in orderto protect individuals from long-term effects of harmful radiations.One of the main arguments presented is the long-term health effectsarising from constant exposure to harmful radiations from thesystems. Although the actual health effects are uncertain, there isneed to evaluate exposure rates to avoid exposing bodies to potentialradiation consequences. The authors’ conclusion focuses on theplanned elimination of backscatters from US airports and possibleincrease in millimeter wave scanners. While the new move is expectedto reduce screening controversies, Accardo and Chaudhry encouragepassengers to reconsider air travel unless in unavoidablecircumstances, since there are risks of long-term effects ofradiations (p. 199).

ShirleyYbarra and Robert Poole, Jr. in ‘Overhauling US Airport SecurityScreening’ (2013) conduct a comprehensive survey of the currentscreening system in the country. The researchers compare the USaviation security strategy against other countries and observeserious faults in operations, regulations, contracting and screeningprocedures. One of the observations made is that the country has beenoperating “out of step with other countries” (p. 2). In Europe,for example, airport operators are legally mandated with theresponsibility of security, whereas in the US, an independent agency,the TSA, hence creating conflicts of interest in security operations(p. 2). They observe failures by the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) as having prompted formation of TSA after 9/11 terrorismattack. Once TSA took over, serious operational and authority issuesstarted to emerge, among them contracting and regulating screeningprocedures and systems. Currently, TSA is mandated with the task ofoverseeing and recruiting screening companies, instead of allowingairports to select their screening partners. Amid the conflicts, oneindisputable fact has emerged efficiency of the private operators.Whereas The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has noted limitedflexibility of private companies over screening variables,privatization has been identified as one of the most cost-effectivescreening solutions (Ybarra &amp Poole, 2013, p. 4). Similarly, theprivate sector has proved to be better employers based on theirretention rates compared to TSA screening. This means thatprivate-public partnership improves services as well as saving coststhrough high retention rates compared to TSA-only operations. Ananalysis of cost savings after contract screening influences the needto engage in private-public partnerships as well as changing theconflicting policies that empower TSA rather than airports on mattersof passenger and baggage screening (Ybarra &amp Poole, 2013, p. 5).

Ybarraand Poole’s findings on cost effectiveness of TSA screeningmeasures are developed further by Mark Stewart and John Mueller in‘Cost-benefit analysis of airport security: Are airports too safe?’(2014), who investigate the cost-effectiveness of advanced screeningoperations in airports. Airports are some of the most protectedtransport facilities, especially after 9/11 terrorist attacks.Despite the high levels of protection and screening procedures,citizens are still vulnerable to attacks in other assembly andcongested areas, for example, stadiums (Stewart &amp Mueller, 2014,p. 19). The research follows a risk-based theory that identifies theseverity of attacks based on threats, vulnerability and consequences.A mathematical computation of costs-effectiveness of securitymeasures gives a high uncertainty of predicting probability ofthreats. Stewart and Mueller consider four theoretical scenarios toestimate threat probability and conduct a cost-benefit analysis bygradually introducing several risk mitigation measures at which theydiscover accruing expenses with each additional security measure.After quantifying the separate enhanced security measures, theresearchers find the current security scenario in airportsexaggerated. In addition to the exaggeration, they observe seriouspassenger inconveniences and dissatisfactions generated by the TSAscreening procedures. One of the best solutions to the currentairport security operations is to invest in better equipments, morepersonnel and expanded search counters to increase efficiency andreduce exposure to risks in airports. Although airports have beenpreviously targeted by terrorists, the risk assessment demonstratesthat exposure rate of airports is low compared to other transportfacilities.

Asolution to the cost-benefit analysis and current TSA shortfalls areaddressed by Nathan Busch and Austen Givens in ‘Public-PrivatePartnerships in Homeland Security: Opportunities and Challenges’(2012), through an evaluation of private-public efficiencies. Theyexamine the public-private partnership in Homeland security from the19thcentury to date. Some notable success stories include 9/11 andKatrina evacuations, where both groups demonstrated efficiency andeffectiveness while working together (p. 3). Some of the benefitsinclude resource utilization, where physical and human resources areselected from both sides for enhanced service delivery. Technologicalinnovations have been noted to increase effectiveness by allowing themost advanced party to share their technologies doe enhancedservices. Trust is also build through reduced skepticism and blames,while human resource is improved through increased retentionstrategies and effective recruitment processes. Despite thesebenefits, the authors identify various challenges, among thembureaucracy, cost overruns, and unmet cooperation expectations, amongothers. Busch and Givens observe the need to develop sustainablesolutions by engaging resources and skills from both the governmentand business sector (p. 13). The aim is to transform homelandsecurity without compromising on efficiency and expectations. Ifskills, competencies and knowledge are transformed from businesssector to the government with appropriate financial incentives, thereare opportunities for growth and sustainability between the twogroups. The government needs to enhance its financial package inorder to encourage private participation in securing airports andother transport facilities. They identify potential growth andimprovements in the transport sector if private sector workedcollaboratively with the government agencies by providing human andphysical resource and technology, while the TSA offers necessaryinfrastructures and financial incentives to the private sector (Busch&amp Givens, 2012, p. 19).


Risein Global Terrorism Screening Technologies

Bodyscanners, among them backscatters, which are characterized byradiation-emitting technologies, have been introduced to ensure thatpassengers do not carry concealed contrabands. These technologieshave not only proved to be harmful due to regular radioactiveemissions, but also intrusive due to their virtual strips. Accordingto Accardo and Chaudhry, senior researchers at the Department ofMedical Laboratory and Radiation Sciences in the University ofVermont (2014, p. 199), backscatters have been proved to emit smallamounts of X-rays in order to penetrate soft materials, hence causingvirtual stripped images of passengers. Additionally, the researchersidentified millimeter-wave systems as popular screening technologiesin some airports due to lesser radioactive effects. The currentsystem forces all travelers through the scanners before boarding aplane, hence exposing them to the radiations, while conductingvirtual strips using the Advanced Imaging Technology (ATI). Theinformation demonstrates the dilemma faced by the TSA in ensuring itsairports are safe from terror attacks, without infringing the rightsof the passengers. However, the technologies and screening proceduresapproved by the TSA have led to health, ethical and privacy concerns.

ControversialScreening Technologies and Practices

Bodyscanners conduct virtual strips on passengers and are associated withprivacy breach, data protection contentions, and exposing passengersto harmful radiations. According to Olga Mironeko, a lecturer at theFaculty of law, University of Oslo, some of the popular screeningmeasures include pat downs, body search, Advanced Imaging Technology(ATI), and X-ray imaging. Pat downs and body searches causepsychological torture and infringe privacy as well as causingembarrassments. Pat downs are characterized by physical searches byan official by running hands throughout the body to detect hiddencontrabands. The process is extremely torturous and humiliating.Additionally, backscatters expose travelers to harmful radiations,which can cause serious alterations after prolonged exposures.According to Azzam, Jay-Gerin and Pain (2012), radiation exposuresfor prolonged period may affect the DNA formations, leading tomutations, alternations, and defects. In fact, the researcher arguesthat some forms of cancer can be experienced due to consistentexposure of body cells to radiations. Amidst these concerns, TSApolicies contradict with airport authorities’ mandates of securingair travel by authorizing TSA officials with contracting powers.These issues are mainly caused by lack of appropriate contractingpolicies between TSA, airports and the private sector.

RigidContracting Processes

Thecontracting challenges have hindered proper implementation ofprivate-public partnership despite the private sector proving to haveadvanced and safer screening technologies. The conflicting interestsbetween TSA and airports have affected data protection assurances andtrust from passengers. Passengers are not assured of data protection,especially virtual strips collected during the screening process.Legal, ethical, and health issues under international laws andconstitution have failed to address the existing screening breaches.There is failure by The International Civil Aviation Organization(ICAO), a specialized UN agency, to regulate and standardizebody-scanning technologies (Mironeko, 2001, p. 1). Different articlesin the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 (UDHR), whichemphasizes on human privacy, dignity, and respect for private andfamily life are continuously breached by the screening processes(Mironeko, 2001, p. 5). The Fourth Amendment elaborates on rightsagainst unreasonable searches and seizures.

ChangingContracting and Screening Policies

Currently,TSA is responsible for contracting processes with companies offeringscreening services in airports. This situation has elicitedconflicting interests between TSA and airports, leading toinconsistencies, delays, and inefficiencies in several airports.According to a research conducted by Robert Poole, Searle FreedomTrust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy andShirley Ybarra, Senior Transportation Policy Analyst, the US has beenoperating ‘out of step’. In European countries, for example, theresponsibility of contracting screening activities is under airportauthorities (Ybarra &amp Poole, 2013). The separation of rolesbetween the transport security agencies and airports createsfunctional responsibilities and eliminates conflicts of interests.Additionally, it allows airport authorities to partner with privateinstitutions, hence enhancing innovation and efficiency. Contrary tothe operations and policies in other countries, the US congresspassed a policy empowering TSA, rather than airports to conductscreening activities, causing confusion and inconsistencies betweenthe two parties. The confusion has hindered effective contractingprocesses, sharing information, as well as establishing appropriateinfrastructures to accommodate the private sector.

Effectivenessof Privatization

Privatizationof some security operations has proved to be effective, since itsintroduction by the Homeland security. According to a research byNathan Busch and Austen Givens, lecturers on homeland security,counterterrorism and emergency management at Utica College there havebeen success operations after private-public partnerships, citinghurricane Katrina and 9/11 terror attacks. In the incidences,resources, personnel and technology was provided by both parties,hence increasing efficiency. This research is also backed by Ybarraand Poole (2013, p. 4), who observe that the private sector hasproved to be better employers based on their retention rates comparedto TSA screening. The interactions have been enhanced byinfrastructure sharing, human resource integration, technologyimprovements, and innovative ideas from the private sector. Private-public partnership success will require changes to TSAcontracting policies to allow airports take care of screeningoperations. An accurate reference point would be in Europe and otherglobal regions, where airport operators are legally mandated with theresponsibility of security. The processes vary greatly with USpolicies which use an independent agency, the TSA, hence creatingconflicts of interest in security operations (Ybarra &amp Poole,2013, p. 2). Privatization is expected to enhance technology use,increase number of personnel and reduce congestion. Plans have beenunderway to eliminate backscatters, and privatizing these operationswill enhance service delivery. Accardo and Chaudhry (2014, p. 199)propose ways of introducing the less-harmful millimeter wavescanners. Privatization is cost-effective in that it eliminatesmonopolization of screening measures by encouraging innovation,resource sharing and introduction of better technology. Millimeterwave scanners can be supplied by the private sector, henceeliminating financial and technological responsibilities from thegovernment. Stewart and Mueller (2014) argue that the current focuson airport security is exaggerated considering threats, vulnerabilityand consequences. However, Ybarra and Poole (2013, p. 4) considerprivate companies as more efficient, better employees andcost-effective. They have better chances of introducingcustomer-oriented services, rather than subjecting passengers torigid screening practices, as currently experienced in most airports.


Private-publicpartnership is cost effective through enhanced quality of servicesthrough shared technologies, personnel, and infrastructures. Thiswould eliminate excessive exposure rates, backscatters, and otherprivacy-infringing operations through improved customer careservices. Additionally, researchers have identified serious issues inthe current contracting policies, which have led to conflictinginterests, as well as emphasis on traditional and intrusive screeningprocedures, without appreciating consumer needs. The researchdemonstrates that the private sector has longstandingcustomer-oriented cultures that would enhance customer servicethrough introduction of safer and less intrusive technologies toscreen passengers. If the partnership is realized, airports wouldestablish a customer-oriented experience that would enhance trust andconfidence among travelers. Additionally, the partnership is expectedto improve quality of screening technologies with aims of increasingefficiency without compromising customer expectations and trust.However, there is need to transfer contracting rights from the TSA toairports. This is the universal trend. The transfer would empowerairports with rights to select the best technologies, which will notaffect customer trust and confidence.


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Azzam,E. I., Jay-Gerin, J. P., &amp Pain, D. (2012). Ionizingradiation-induced metabolic oxidative stress and prolonged cellinjury. Cancerletters,327(1),48-60.

Busch,N. E., &amp Givens, A. D. (2012). Public-Private Partnerships inHomeland Security Opportunities and Challenges.Homeland Security Affairs, 8(18), 1-25.

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Stewart,M. G., &amp Mueller, J. (2014). Cost-benefit analysis of airportsecurity: Are airports too safe?&nbspJournalof Air Transport Management,&nbsp35,19-28.

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