USA Today reports that in addition to terrorist watchlists and no-fly lists, the government is tracking airport threats of another kind: Frustrated (but otherwise harmless) passengers. Or, more specifically, frustrated travelers who let their emotions get the better of them.
"The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says it is keeping records of people who make its screeners feel threatened as part of an effort to prevent workplace violence," writes Thomas Frank, meaning "airline passengers who get frustrated and kick a wall, throw a suitcase or make a pithy comment to a screener could find themselves [on the] little-known Homeland Security database."
Now, the list is small, meaning two things: Incidents like this are rare, and incidents bad enough to warrant placement on the list are even more so. The list presently consists of roughly 240 incidents, some 30 of which involve attacks against TSA officials. So, what gets you on the list? Anything from verbal threats to physical bullying, pulling a weapon, or intentionally scaring TSA employees by punching or kicking things.
Still, the potential privacy violations have people concerned. According to USA Today, "A TSA document published in February says database information can be given to government agencies and to airports, airlines and rail and bus systems in cases involving their workers or job applicants." American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael German told USA Today, "there's a potential for the misuse of information or the mischaracterization of harmless events as potential threats."
I have to say I agree. A traveler acting like a jerk in an airport is probably not a credible threat to air safety, and should be handled by local police or airport security. Maintaining a watchlist seems like a waste of the TSA's energy and resources, and, given the isolated nature of these incidents, probably isn't that useful in the long run.
That said, my feeling is that if you do something bad enough to land on this list, you probably deserve whatever you get. Airport security is one of the most frustrating aspects of traveling, but that's no excuse for lashing out at TSA officials who, for better or worse, are simply doing their job. They don't make the policies they enforce, they simply scan your bags and look for suspicious materials. Could some of them be friendlier? Could some of them use a little more common sense? Sure. But so could many travelers.
Readers, what do you think about the TSA's cranky-passenger list (my term, not the TSA's)?