Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Airport Security & The Politics of Safety

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither freedom or safety." ~ Ben Franklin
Airport full body scanner

With security at an all time high at the airports following 9/11 - and most recently after the Christmas Day "underwear bomber" attempt in 2009 - the fear exhibited by politicians and the general public is apparently not easing anytime soon.

Currently, there are 40 full body scanners located at 19 airports nationwide, capable of a virtual strip search with low-level x-rays that show any explosive materials or contraband a passenger may be hiding on their now-visibly naked persons.

Following the Christmas Day 2009 bombing attempt by Abdul Mudallah, ("If only they had used a body scanner!") Americans can now expect the Brave New World contraptions to appear at dozens of more airports in the near future starting with Boston and Chicago next week.

But even as a somewhat embarassed President Obama admitted at the time, the 23-year-old Nigerian was already on a watch list that should have been checked before he boarded the plane.

Which brings us to an interesting question. What if, instead of putting innocent citizens under suspicion, our legislators and federal agencies actually took responsibility for nabbing the actual bombers before they got to the airport?

The narrative gets stranger, as horror stories surface of toddlers being patted down at the airport or granny's cane is confiscated under suspicion of being a lethal weapon.

No matter. A recent poll on airport security conducted by a "a non-profit group that works to increase public support for federal agencies" (biased much?) shows a majority of Americans don't mind heightened security measures as long as they keep them safe in the air.

Here on earth, meanwhile, courthouses are rolling out full body scanners, as well. So it is not a stretch to see them next in sports stadiums, theaters and colleges. But where next, and at what cost to individual liberties?

Odds are you'll find out especialy if you are one of the unfortunates stopped by a full-body scanner alerted to your left breast implant (or your hip replacement), or you are mistakenly flagged by an underpaid security officer for having talcum powder in your shoes.

So what ARE your rights as an American citizen? Say a cop on the beat decided to search your house without a warrant, or the highway patrol inspected your car trunk for no other reason than just "because we can." You would definitely have a suing case.

Putting the old-fashioned notion of just cause aside for the moment what if you missed an expensive business flight (or a family member's wedding, or funeral) following hours of interrogation because of a dumb mistake. Can you file a lawsuit for harassment? Illegal search and seizure? Lost income?

After your blood stopped boiling the answer would be: good luck with that. If you had the time and money you could probably find a lawyer to take the case, but at best you would probably lose and, at worst, face the additional humiliation of being called un-American or else put on some watch list as a low-life troublemaker.

Or you would simply decide it was just not worth the hassle.

Meanwhile, we're still waiting for the US and other governments to stop looking for things at the airport and start looking for terrorists before they get there.

More about airport security around the Web: