Monday, December 28, 2009

Accept the tradeoffs on airport security

I don't understand these privacy concerns. It seems that there are scanning machines that could have detected the explosive materials. But people are upset about such an invasion of privacy. So instead, some airports are going to be using pat-downs by security personnel.
Privacy advocates, for example, have tried to stop or at least slow the introduction of advanced checkpoint screening devices that use so-called millimeter waves to create an image of a passenger’s body, so officers can see under clothing to determine if a weapon or explosive has been hidden. Security officers, in a private area, review the images, which are not stored. Legislation is pending in the House that would prohibit the use of this equipment for routine passenger screening.

To date, only 40 of these machines have been installed at 19 airports across the United States — meaning only a tiny fraction of passengers pass through them. Amsterdam’s airport has 15 of these machines — more than just about any airport in the world — but an official there said Sunday that they were prohibited from using them on passengers bound for the United States, for a reason she did not explain.

Michael Chertoff, former secretary of homeland security, and Kip Hawley, who ran the Transportation Security Administration until January, said the new body-scanning machines were a critical tool that should quickly be installed in more airports nationwide.

For now, American aviation officials have mandated that airports across the world do physical pat-downs of passengers on flights headed to the United States, a practice that in the past has also raised privacy objections.

“I understand people have issue with privacy,” Mr. Hawley said Sunday. “But that is a tradeoff, and what happened on the plane just highlights what the stakes are.”
I'd rather take the tradeoff of the body-scan than the rule that you can't have any personal item in your lap for the last hour of the flight. I just don't understand that rule at all. Can't the terrorist try to blow the plane up earlier in the flight? Or ignite the explosive in the bathroom? Are all the passengers going to have to put books and papers away and, horrors!, be reduced to either sleeping or talking to their neighbors on the plane? I'd prefer the full body-scan. Especially if the alternative is a pat-down and not being able to read a book or do anything else with my personal property on the last hour of the flight.