I just returned from a wonderful trip to both Italy and Israel, and I can’t help but compare our Transportation Security Administration (TSA) procedures to that of other countries.  In both Italy and Israel, I did not have to take off my shoes or follow the all too familiar 3-1-1 TSA enforced liquid policy. Yet, on April 2, 2010, Department of Homeland Secretary Napolitano announced another set of security measures that hassle passengers who travel by air.

As you may recall, TSA implemented the 3-1-1 policy in response to the thwarted liquid explosive bomb plot in the United Kingdom in August of 2006. The current TSA 3-1-1 rule for carry-on bags is that liquids and gels must be in a 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume) , put in a 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag, and that there is only 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. I would really like to know the scientific basis for why 3.4 ounces, and why a 1 quart-sized bag?  Who comes up with this stuff at TSA or DHS? And if it is so necessary to protect the traveling public, why does neither Italy or Israel follow the same rules since they both have far more experience with terrorism than the United States?

I am a customs and international trade lawyer, not a security expert. I don’t pretend to know the difference between a millimeter wave or backscatter body imaging system, I just am not thrilled about taking my shoes off or separating my liquids in my carry-on bag when going through TSA if it is not absolutely necessary (as it is not in both Italy and Israel). Civil libertarians are opposed to the new, anatomically revealing technology on all travelers, and consider the body scanners an invasion of privacy that is akin to a strip search. The devices detect objects concealed under clothes and can produce detailed images of the body.  According to Jay Stanley, public education director for the technology and liberty program at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), he sarcastically announced that “We would certainly all be safer on airlines if we all flew naked.”

I am all for TSA’s risk management approach to aviation safety, and I sure like to know that when I get on an airplane, it will safely take me from one city or country to another.  In Israel, I saw exactly the same x-ray machines as we have in the United States, but I did not see in Israel or Italy any canine teams or the use of the very controversial advanced imaging technology that the TSA is now promoting in the United States. So, I ask the question again, why does the TSA think they know better how to handle aviation safety than the law enforcement agencies in Italy and Israel?