Backlash Grows against Airport Security Measures

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON (AP) - How did an agency created to protect the public become the target of so much public scorn?

After nine years of funneling travelers into ever longer lines with orders to have shoes off, sippy cups empty and laptops out for inspection, the most surprising thing about increasingly heated frustration with the federal Transportation Security Administration may be that it took so long to boil over.

Even Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is not subjected to security pat-downs when she travels, understands the public's irritation. She, for one, wouldn't want to go through such scrutiny.

"Not if I could avoid it. No. I mean, who would?'' Clinton told CBS' "Face the Nation'' in an interview broadcast Sunday.

The agency, a marvel of nearly instant government when it was launched in the fearful months following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, started out with a strong measure of public goodwill.

Americans wanted the assurance of safety when they boarded planes and entrusted the government with the responsibility.

But in episode after episode since then, the TSA has demonstrated a knack for ignoring the basics of customer relations, while struggling with what experts say is an all but impossible task. It must stand as the last line against unknown terror, yet somehow do so without treating everyone from frequent business travelers to the family heading home to visit grandma as a potential terrorist.

The TSA "is not a flier-centered system. It's a terrorist-centered system and the travelers get caught in it,'' said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who has tracked the agency's effectiveness since its creation.

That built-in conflict is at the heart of a growing backlash against the TSA for ordering travelers to step before a full-body scanner that sees through their clothing, undergo a potentially invasive pat-down or not fly at all. …