Standards of liberty, or equal violation under the law?

Perhaps because America is such a world leader in the paranoid pursuit of ‘security’ at all costs, it also seems to be a breeding ground for a number of dissenting voices. This thoughtful and cogent piece from Joel Cohen (no, not that Joel Cohen) illustrates a key way in which we risk justifying civil liberties violations to ourselves: by focussing on whether they’re fair rather than on whether they’re right.As we pass through airport security, for example, it’s easy to say to ourselves that, since everyone else is undergoing a humiliating and ridiculous rigmarole, we’re best to keep quiet and do the same. Which, in truth, we probably are if we want to get on our flight.

Because we all do want to get on our flights, and because making a fuss singles us out as troublemakers, it’s easy to stay in line and grit our teeth when we pass through a full-body scanner or submit ourselves to an intrusive pat-down.

Ironically, the person doing the scanning or performing the pat-down probably finds the whole scenario just as distasteful as the rest of us. A perfect example of how a conspiracy of silence causes human beings as a collective to act in ways we all know individually are absurd. Herein lies the true danger: that our acceptance of minor abuse opens the way to more serious violations further along the line.

Let’s be completely honest here, I’ll almost certainly end up passing through a scanner the next time I fly. Much as I admire the people who register protests – such as these intrepid Germans and at least two pilots’ unions in the US, putting up with the situation still feels less painful than kicking up a stink.

Which doesn’t, of course, render the situation right. There may be better ways of registering our dissent than at the airport when we have a plane to catch (such as sharing this blog, for instance). When pilots’ unions get involved, it’s clear that full-body scanners have some powerful critics. The more apparent it becomes that many thousands of us object to them, the more likely the governments are to bow to public pressure and reduce or bar their usage.

However we choose to register our protests, it’s important to recognise the implications of the idea that we must accept full-body scans or pat-downs because everyone else does. It’s an example of a herd mentality, the kind of mentality that stifles independent thought and renders us vulnerable to increasingly severe violations of our rights and liberties.

If we make ‘fairness’ a higher value than privacy and liberty, we run the risk of justifying all kinds of abuse simply because other people are also being subjected to it, and we lose touch with what makes us human.

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