Does The TSA Tradeoff Between Liberty and Security Make Sense?

Here’s a surprisingly well-reasoned discussion of the TSA, airport security, and the tradeoffs between liberty and security.

It’s by an academic, Professor James Otteson, professor of philosophy and economics at Yeshiva University in New York, who says that the TSA takes away our liberty to make the choice beween freedom and security. He acknowledges it’s a complex question, and one that people can come down differently on, but that we clearly don’t choose security over liberty in all cases, such as car crashes which cause more deaths than terrorist attacks, or swimming pools which kill more people than accidental gun shootings.

Hardly the last word on the subject, but interesting points in a quick video.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Otteson’s point is good but overstated. We have not traded off “all liberty and all privacy” for security. It’s simply that the TSA has determined that security is more important than liberty and privacy and has determined that we MUST trade as much liberty and privacy as it determines in order to, as far as possible, ensure security.

    This is an important distinction and, bearing in mind people’s well-known inability to consider risk properly, would probably be supported by the population at large. A referendum on the question “Do you support limited background checks and universal physical searches prior to boarding an aircraft to ensure safety, or would you prefer to run a small risk of a terrorist incident but enjoy more relaxed security checks?” would elicit a response favorable to the TSA.

    I personally think the TSA has gone too far and is not a well-run organization but I simply make the point that it’s not as simple as people make out.

  2. TSA poses a greater threat to our fundamental liberties than Al-Qaeda and all of the other terrorist groups combined.

    They propose the logically flawed premise that unless passengers are digitally strip searched and have their genitals fondled by a screener a plane tragedy will result. However, there is no factual connection between their molestations and aircraft safety.

    The scanners and genital pat downs were not in place between 2001 and October of 2010 and no planes were hijacked or crashed. The so called underwear bomber carried less than 90 grams of explosives and even TSA conceded in March that the plane would not have been significantly damaged had he detonated it.
    This agency is nothing more than a bloated jobs program feeding on public ignorance and relying on fear mongering to maintain its budget. These wasteful agency is inefficient and focused on its own expansion and not on the mission of airport security.

    TSA needs to be replaced with something that actually works and those responsible for this expensive farce prosecuted.

  3. I’m generally willing to give up some freedom in return for safety — more so than many people. But I’m becoming increasingly convinced that the TSA putting us through a lot of hassle and taking away our freedom without actually making us any safer. It’s not at all clear that the increasingly intrusive airport screening is actually preventing any terrorist attacks. And the evidence is getting stronger and stronger that some of the new screening machines increase cancer risk, so even if they’re slightly reducing terrorism risk, they could still be making us less safe overall. Trading freedom for safety is one thing. But it seems like we’re giving up freedom and getting nothing in return.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *