Friday, January 8, 2010
Airport Security: Trading Liberty for the Illusion of Safety
I could beat Micheal Jordon in a game of 1 on 1. Sure I could, if the rules for the game were that I win when I score once, and he only wins if I quit playing. He wouldn't stand a chance.
In a similar game North American governments are playing with terrorists, we're attempting to step up our defense with nude body scanners in our airports. The purpose is to "make us safer", or at least, make us "feel safer". Once it's understood that subjecting millions of our own travelers to these machines does not make us safer, it may not make us feel safer either.
Consider the body scanned picture above like those airport security will see. The gun is visible enough, but what of the white stuff around the body? Is that just thick underwear or a plastic explosive? The gun would have been detected by conventional screening anyway, so what we're gaining here is a big fat nothing. What we lose is a piece of liberty.
The value of such liberty is subtle but significant. We have been losing bits of liberty, step by step, each time a terrorist attempts to attack a plane. Authorities act quickly with measures that may have caught the last attempt, even though we have every reason to believe the next terrorist will try something different. Shoe bomber failed, take off your shoes. Liquid bomber failed, no more drinks. Underwear bomber failed, let's have a peek inside your underwear. And so these vain steps will continue ad-nauseam, so long as the public puts up with it. And by putting up with it, we are only asking for more.
Anal cavity searches are coming, after a terrorist inevitably packs explosives there, undetected by these new machines. Those who accept these security measures today will deserve the anally intrusive search tomorrow, which they've been asking for with each metaphoric bending over to new security regulations.
Should we really fear dieing by midair explosion?
Between 2002 and 2010:
Total deaths in U.S. motor-vehicles: 293,823
Total deaths on U.S. commercial flights: 105
Total deaths in U.S. by terrorism: 0
To put it mildly, we can afford to lose a few more planes, or we should get scared about cars. Let's say the terrorists were to blow up few dozen planes per year, we'd still be winning on the safety scale by a tremendous margin.
Some may say that all of this security is the reason for the low death rates on commercial flights. As it happens, I believe that if all security were removed, a rise in the number of terrorist attacks on airplanes would be subtle. This is supported by the facts. Airport security had no effect on either the 2001 shoe bomber, the 2006 liquid bombers, or the 2009 underwear bomber, all of whom managed to fail due to prior police work or passenger intervention.
The cost of airport security adds up to the billions. Trillions have been spent on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, all in the name of security. There are also hidden costs. Millions of people fly each year, and each hour they arrive early to the airport could be spent being productive. So subtract their wages and output from the GDP. All in the name of safety and security.
Why this irrational fear of planes blowing up?
All of this wasteful spending could be replaced with some psychological education about why our fears are irrational. Fear sits in the very primal middle of the brain. It developed during a pre-historic animal state, we know this for we share it with other animals, like mice. Inherent fears, such as fear of snakes, the dark, spiders and heights, were bred into our species after a good number of our ancestors were killed. Flying involves heights, an inherent fear, so to die this way seems particularly scary. Once we realize the cause of this fear, we can look at the statistics, rationalize, and overcome it.
We have to understand our fears and accept the fact that some people want to blow us up. We cannot stop them entirely. We can, however, make fewer people want to blow us up by not buying into the jihad or the war on terror (whichever name you prefer). Our best response is to live our lives without fear. To be terrorized is a choice.