Rand Paul and the TSA Firestorm

Who’s ready for another populist, anti-TSA firestorm?

Authorities blocked U.S. Sen. Rand Paul at the Nashville airport Monday after the Kentucky Republican refused a pat-down at a security checkpoint, his spokeswoman said.

There’s already a dispute over what actually happened to Paul. According to his office, he was detained by security officials. According to the TSA, he was escorted to the airport’s exit after he refused to comply with the pat-down.

The TSA released the following statement about the incident:

“When an irregularity is found during the TSA screening process, it must be resolved prior to allowing a passenger to proceed to the secure area of the airport,” according to an official statement released by TSA. “Passengers who refuse to complete the screening process cannot be granted access to the secure area in order to ensure the safety of others traveling.”

This seems pretty unobjectionable, but it’s raised the usual libertarian criticisms of airport security. Since Paul is self-evidently not a terrorist, this has been seized on as another example of TSA arbitrariness.

But what exactly is the argument here? That Rand Paul shouldn’t have to go through the regular screening process? That U.S. senators shouldn’t have to go through the regular airport screening process? That nobody who isn’t a terrorist should have to go through the airport screening process?

You can reasonably make the case that U.S. senators shouldn’t have to follow the same airport rules as the general public. But if you want to argue that Paul’s detention is evidence the TSA procedures need to be overhauled for everyone, that’s ridiculous. Virtually nobody who goes through airport security is a terrorist. That’s how it works. The security measures are primarily designed to deter terrorists from trying to enter in the first place — and so far, that’s been pretty successful. So while the TSA’s request that Paul go through additional screening sounds impractical as everybody knows he’s not a threat, it’s hardly proof the system isn’t working.