Saturday, January 1, 2011

Flash over Substance: The Balance between Freedom and National Security

I dread going to the airport. No, I don't have a fear of flying. And usually the waiting time isn't too bad because I have a book. And security gives me a lot less trouble because I'm white. Still, I dread the waste of time that is the Transportation Security Administation (TSA) (and the equivalent in the UK too, which is arguably much much worse). I am just waiting for the day when in my over-tired traveling state I will snap. Because I am disgusted with the ways over and over again people submit themselves to over-reaction in the name of counter-terrorism. The TSA does not make us safer. Created after 9/11, its existence is basically a charade to make us think that they are doing something, when in reality they have done nothing.
This "flash over substance" approach to security comes into play even more vividly as Thanksgiving 2010 marked the more widespread use of full body scanners in airports across the U.S.A. My parents argued with me about the scanners, saying that I and others were overreacting and it was no big deal (my mother in fact implied that I was being rather puritanical about bodies in refusing to go through the scanners). They argued that we ought to submit to these scanners if the can make our airspace safer. However, in all my reading I found over and over again that, as the xkcd comic on the left reminds us, these tactics of the TSA do little to protect us.

I want to take a moment here to refer to the fantastic Bully Bloggers had a piece (one that was not as good as usual but still had a good point)reminding us that white liberals complaining about full body scanners and the invasion of privacy they brought with it obviously forget that it is "the sort of treatment black women and men have been accustomed to ever since they were pawed and poked on the auction block." But this, for me, is just another example of how we in our anti-terrorist hysteria, have allowed the restrictions on our civil liberties to go too far. Randy Ananda in an article for the Dissident Voice quotes Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, as saying:

"In England where they spent about a third of all [their] security budget on video surveillance, there is study after study after study that shows that those who observe the surveillance are tracked to look at pretty girls' special parts, and to use those kinds of technologies to essentially violate women’s privacy, or children’s or boys’ or whoever we might be looking at.

"The same danger exists here, and that's something we should be aware of. It's been absolutely consistent in the tests. Some jurisdictions have even stopped using these technologies."

In this case, we see such scanners make us less safe.

So why do we continually allow ourselves to be treated like animals when studies have shown that such invasive tools do little to protect us?

Aaron and I watched a short documentary on the world's oldest continually operated airport, College Park airport, (which I included at the end because I thought it was that interesting, particularly the third section) that I think best narrated how ridiculous this hysteria surrounding flight post 9/11 is. The customer base at College Park airport prior to 9/11 was over 400,000. Now, it is just over 50 because the airspace within the 495 beltway is off limits without an extensive vetting process. Now, the manager of the airport says that he believes that there ought to be a vetting process. However, to fly at College Park, a pilot must get a background check by physically driving to Baltimore, physically getting finger printed at National airport in DC, bringing that documentation physically to College Park, and then waiting 4-8 weeks. These things could be done online or at any number of locations besides Baltimore and DC. And today, you can't even walk onto the airport property without being vetted, meaning the airport can't have the educational and child-oriented aviation events they used to have.

And for those of you who still think the College Park story is sad but necessary to make the Capitol safer, who think that no matter how much surveillance can be abused, if it just helps that one time--- go visit the general aviation section of an international airport like National or BWI. There is no security there.

At the end of the College Park documentary, Jim Campbell of Aero-News Network asks "how long the current security hysteria continues to value flash over substance, hype over reality?" I ask us the same question.


"Behind the Front Lines: Historic College Park Airport Struggles to Stay Alive"

No comments:

Post a Comment