Student Shows Flaws in Airline Security: Should He Be Prosecuted?

Should a student who told the government he was going to take box cutters on to the plane to reveal security flaws be prosecuted?

As one reader told us in his comments this week, “we’re all in this together.”

We instinctively know that and when we posed the following question to our readers we got an enthusiastic response: “Should a student who told TSA in advance about his actions be prosecuted for smuggling prohibited items on to passenger jets?”

There isn’t much doubt about the sentiment on this issue. 70% of those responding indicated the student should not be prosecuted. 23% believe he should be prosecuted and the remaining 7% were still undecided.

A human resources specialist from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland summarized his opinion this way:

“Given his earlier attempts to notify the authorities the “correct, legal” way were ignored, this was the only way to get everyone’s attention to a definite security problem.”

As you might expect, some readers have even stronger opinions. An employee of the Forest Service in West Virginia sent in this opinion:

“The screener that let it through should be fired! The more I fly, the more I see that airline security is a joke. The student should not be prosecuted, because he proved a point. Screeners are a waste. They are not doing their job. I have seen them joking, talking about last night’s party, flirting, anything but looking at the screens.”

A bank examiner from the FDIC also apparently does some flying around the country and had this to say:

“More people should be concerned about security. In my experience, the whole TSA involvement has been less than satisfactory. While most personnel dealing with the public have gotten better, in the Newark airport, TSA personnel have been extremely unprofessional and have shown complete ignorance in doing their duties.”

And a human resources specialist from OPM in San Francisco commented:

“I think that he was doing us all a favor. He obviously was not trying to hid (sic) anything since he informed the appropriate authorities of his actions. I believe the authorities are just being defensive for their negligence.”

But, while only 23% said the student should be prosecuted, readers also told us why they think he should be prosecuted. For example, a loan officer from the USDA in Michigan wrote:

“What he did is still a crime no matter his intentions. His ‘crime’ is no different than any felon who calls in a bomb threat, pulls a fire alarm, etc. The fact he sent a warning prior to committing the crime doesn’t change anything. How is his crime different that the bomb threat?”

A police captain with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing said simply: “[This was a] criminal act that cost a lot of money.”

A number of readers felt that he had violated the law but jail time was too severe. They suggested community service. Here are the comments of a contracting officer for the Air Force in Oklahoma City: “The only time this kid should do, if any, is community service to the TSA. Maybe he can help them.”

Finally, an Army employee in Arkansas summed up the beliefs of several readers who thought the government could use the student’s skills. He wrote: “He should be hired as a consultant.”

Thanks to all readers who took the time to vote on this issue and to send in your opinions on this topic.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47