Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Submitting to Security

Most children think airplanes are really cool. When I was little airports were really cool, too. Sometimes I was allowed in the cockpit to meet the pilot and add his signature to my autograph book, and I could even go through security without a boarding pass to stand at a huge pane of glass, wondering which magical plane held whomever I was waiting to meet.

In the years since, passengers have been met with wave after wave of new security measures. First, only ticketed passengers were allowed through security. Next, nail clippers and lighters were banned. Then liquids (some airports even include tubes of lip gloss in a passenger’s liquid allowance). In London, passengers are limited to one carry-on, while in the U.S. the size of allowed carry-ons is shrinking even as airlines start charging for checked baggage. Now, full-body scanners and mandatory profiling.

The Christmas Day bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound flight instigated the latest furor over security measures. The EU is discussing the installation of full-body scanners in all of its members’ airports and the U.S. has created a country list for mandatory profiling. Residents of a “sponsor of terrorism” – Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria – or of 10 other “countries of interest” will be required to pass through new security measures; the U.S. government has yet to release exactly what those measures entail.

While some passengers willingly submit to these new security measures as necessary for their safety, others have raised major doubts as to their viability, legality, and necessity. Full-body scanners are eyed with much skepticism by passengers who view them as a major invasion of privacy. Meanwhile, the new profiling regulations have come under fire from both sides: some call them a form of racism and others claim they don’t go far enough.

The debate ultimately comes down to this: what is the acceptable price for security? In an age of increasing trans-border movement, citizens are finding certain of their liberties – such as the right to privacy – curtailed in governmental attempts to guarantee security. In the U.S., we still have it better than most places in the world. We are free to criticize the government, to protest, to congregate. We have the right to a trial by jury and are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. We even have the right to privacy. How much of that are we willing to give up – and what if we didn’t have to?

Israelis don’t.

One could easily argue that Israel is a higher profile target for terrorism than the U.S., yet Israeli airports don’t use body scanners and passengers typically make it from the parking lot to the waiting lounge in 25 minutes. Israeli airport security studies behavior, not stuff – and security hasn’t been breached since 2002. Perhaps submission to hours of waiting and full-body scans and searches isn’t actually necessary.

Supposing the security measures passengers face in the U.S. are necessary, however, do they actually work? Less than a year ago I boarded a U.S.-bound flight with a Swiss Army knife in my carry-on bag (I forgot it was there). But then, I’m a clean-cut white girl with an American passport who carries a teddy bear around the world. Who could possibly suspect me of terrorism? Racial profiling – right there.

"Controversy over body scanners." Al Jazeera English. 5 Jan. 2010. Web. 5 Jan. 2010. http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2010/01/201015183039178220.html.
Kelly, Cathal. "The 'Israelification' of airports: High security, little bother." The Star. 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 5 Jan. 2010.http://www.thestar.com/iphone/news/world/article/744199---israelification-high-security-little-bother.

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