New Airport Security Measures Cause Public and Political Controversy
Sunday, November 28th, 2010
It’ s Thanksgiving week and Congress is out on recess, so I didn’ t expect there’ d
be much to report on in the political world. But surprisingly enough, the government
is rather concerned about us little people this week. Thanksgiving means a lot of
Americans are traveling, which in turn means that recent changes to airport security
are under scrutiny. Politicians spent Sunday speaking to news shows and newspapers
about the issue, and nearly every major newspaper ran a story last Monday about how
the new screening procedures at airports will affect Americans this holiday, and how the
government is or isn’ t trying to improve these procedures.
The backdrop to this is what The New York Times described as an “ uproar” and
what Politico called “ a sudden furor” among Americans who think that the new airport
security measures are too intrusive. Many people are particularly uncomfortable with the
Advanced Imaging Technology-- full-body scanners that allow airport workers to make
sure passengers have nothing hidden under their clothes. They virtually undress travelers.
The alternative to receiving a full-body scan is a pat-down, which is also intrusive but
avoids the digital nudity of AIT.
President Obama and his administration have been trying to display empathy for
travelers, but the blunt words of John Pistole, head of the Transportation Security
Administration, outraged the public and made the government seem insensitive to
Americans’ privacy concerns.
“ Do I understand the sensitivities of people? Yes. If you’ re asking, am I going to
change the policies? No,” said Pistole, on CNN’ s “ State of the Union.”
This statement pissed off a lot of Americans and possibly the Obama
administration, since it didn’ t exactly coincide with their message. Pistole later
backtracked, releasing a statement where he tried to assure Americans that measures will
be taken to make airport procedures “ as minimally invasive as possible.”
While it’ s slightly amusing to hear top politicians talk about the trifles of being
groped or scanned in an airport, the issue is actually quite intricate. Most passengers
don’ t want to undergo full-body scans or pat-downs, but their alternative is the possibility
of being blown up. Thus the inevitable conflict that comes with airport security policies:
how to balance privacy and safety. Anyone remember the Nigerian who tried to detonate
an airplane last Christmas with explosives in his underpants? When the initial threat was
gone, it made for a funny story, but the incident actually had serious consequences for
airport security. Almost a year later, measures have become much stricter in airports
across the country because of it.
Pistole himself went through security at Ronald Reagan International Airport on
Tuesday, opting for a “ modified pat-down” according to The New York Times-- though
he said he has undergone the real thing. Pistole still defends the new technology despite
the controversy it has caused.
“ My hope is that, whatever people want to call me, they recognize that we’ re
simply doing everything we can to work with people to provide the best possible
security,” he said.
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