Security Theatre: what next?
We’ve written before about the ineffectiveness of full body scanners, along with the health and privacy risks they carry. In the US, in particular, there is a groundswell of popular opinion against them — perhaps in part because they are used so much more frequently there than they are in the UK. Perhaps because the country’s libertarian ethos makes a strange cacophony when played in concert with machines that show security personnel naked images of travellers.
That distaste could also shed some light on the emergence of another warning — that Al Qaida could be planning to surgically implant bombs into the bodies of terrorists in an effort to pass through security undetected.
Of course, it’s impossible for us to know how realistic this threat actually is. The chances of Al Qaida being able to convince even the most fanatical of fanatics to undergo that kind of process seem pretty slim to us, and the prospect seems more like fear-mongering than a genuine warning. That’s in tandem with the fact that Al Qaida’s figurehead, Osama bin Laden, was supposedly killed a few sort months ago. Couple all that with even some of the colossal implausibilities in the official version of the events of September 11th, 2001, and it’s hard for us to give true credence to any security warnings issuing from government departments.
Even if we’re being cynical, however, and there is a genuine risk involved, it must certainly be miniscule. Yet, it could be used to justify a considerable intensification of security practices at airports around the world, especially in the use of full body scanners at European airports (which, we might add, would doubtless be very lucrative for the contractors who provide and install them). All of this on the basis that, should someone seek to pass through airport security with a bomb sewn into their anatomy, full body scanners would be the best way of detecting the explosives — a supposition that appears to be entirely untested.
As a corollary to this story, we also heard this week of a nasty little episode in which a five-year-old — the EU national child of a non-EU national father — was detained “without the necessary authority” and subjected to a “latex rub-down search”. The detention would have gone unreported but for an unannounced visit by Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Prisons, because the boy was booked into the holding facility as a ‘visitor’.
This kind of activity seems almost routine, judging by the number of children held in the lock-up over a three-month period.
We are, it seems to us, in serious danger of allowing paranoia to overwhelm principles in our attitude to airport security. In the process, we’re actually becoming less and less secure, because our fear leads us to ill-advised military interventions and to the alienation of innocent people.