Our views: full-body scanners in airports

For more information about full-body scanners, click here to read Paqui’s recent article on the topic.

Matt’s view

In modern-day America, many people are pondering this question: which is more important, privacy or safety? Should a certain degree of privacy be given up to the government in order for them to protect us from potential harm?

The Patriot Act, passed in 2001 in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, makes it easier for the government to search citizens’ e-mail and phone records, as well as their medical and financial records. And now, in the wake of a failed terrorism attack last December, many airports across the country – and the world – are considering the installation of full-body scanners. These scanners could help detect explosives and therefore prevent potential acts of terrorism, but the images produced by the scanners are a bit more revealing than previous technology allowed, and that has some people feeling nervous.

I think privacy is important to an extent. However, I think some people exaggerate its importance. I don’t particularly want someone reading over my e-mails or examining my phone records under a microscope without my knowledge, but to be honest, I think that’s just a knee-jerk reaction. I don’t have anything to hide. Anyone reading through my e-mails would most likely just come away bored. But as a society and as a culture, we’ve developed this idea that we’re owed this meaningless and knee-jerk sense of privacy. And in my opinion, this is the same type of privacy that people are worried about losing to full-body scanners at airports.

The images produced by the scanners aren’t going to be flashed up on a screen for everyone in line behind you to see. In fact, they aren’t even shown to the attendant operating the scanner. Only one set of eyes is going to see the images, and there’s an incredibly low likelihood that this same set of eyes is ever going to encounter you in person.

So what’s the big deal? Someone you don’t know and most likely will never meet is going to see a computer processed image – not a photograph – of your body. Yeah, it’s a computer processed image of your naked body, but again, so what? Bodies are natural.  We’ve all got bodies. If you’re honestly so concerned about a single stranger seeing a processed image of your naked body (which will disappear from their computer screen and be erased from existence within a matter of seconds) that you’re willing to sacrifice not only your personal safety but the safety of others in order to “protect your privacy,” then I’d say a re-evaluation of your priorities is in order. This isn’t George Orwell’s Thought Police in action – this is a simple, painless and minor inconvenience at the very most.

Personally, I’m all for the full-body scanners. Sure, they might be a drag to have to go through. It might mean I have to spend a few more minutes going through security before boarding a plane, and in an airport, a few minutes can seem like a few lifetimes.  And, yeah, I will probably feel that knee-jerk reaction of my privacy being “invaded” as I step through the scanner. But in the end, I’m absolutely fine feeling uncomfortable for a moment if it means that the lives of innocent people could be saved.

Paqui’s view

Benjamin Franklin once said, “The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.” This quote essentially summarizes the issue revolving around this debate today: should the government be able to implement full-body scanners, which produce naked images of passengers, in airports and then force average citizens to go through them before being able to fly on a plane?

My personal opinion is no. It’s a violation of everything America stands upon: liberty, freedom and the Constitution, the supreme law of the land. Now many people argue these new full-body scanners are a necessity in airports, but these people clearly forget about the already-heavy security that the airport forces a flyer to undergo. To put average flyers under further scrutiny is repugnant to everything we believe in as Americans. Let me explain.

To begin with, Americans have never been a strain of people to forfeit civil liberties for the mere reason to maybe stay safe. Looking all the way back to the 1920s, we let Ku Klux Klan members march down streets, knowing we may find someone lynched in the morning. In the ‘60s, the Supreme Court gave criminals the right to stay silent in Miranda v. Arizona, even though that meant they might end up back on the street. In the ‘70s, the Supreme Court ruled in New York Times Co. v. U.S. that the New York Times could publish the Pentagon Papers, although they may have posed a threat to national security. The list goes on and on.

The truth is that in this new dawning decade, there is always going to a possibility of a terrorist attack. The government will never be able to terminate the threat entirely. The more it tries, the more security we’ll have to go through, the more civil liberties we’ll forfeit and the more George Orwell’s 1984 becomes a reality. We cannot let that happen.

And now, going back to Ben Franklin’s quote: “The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.” In this case, we must put our foot down and stop government tyranny; those people who are willing to lie down and give up their rights just for the possibility of being secure should think again about what they’re doing.

Our body is our most prized possession, and a sense of privacy is one of the most sacred Americans have. In effect, that’s the defining line between the United States and other countries. In the U.S., the people own their bodies; in other countries the government does. The people were granted the right to use birth control in Griswold v. Connecticut and later the right to get an abortion in Roe v. Wade; both of these cases personify the greater concept of American freedom. We are our own person and have control over our body. Once the government gets to look at us naked, then we have to start worrying.

Proponents of these new full-body scanners fail to realize that other less intrusive scanners are being used in airports across the country. Security can clearly be obtained through other non-obtrusive means. In fact, the Christmas Day bomber, the terrorist who precipitated this wave of security in the first place, was on a watch list. His own father reported him as a terrorist! This is no issue of inadequate security; it’s a case of official incompetence.

The Bill of Rights protects American rights, containing some of the most sacred of those civil liberties: freedom of speech, freedom of religion and the right to counsel among others. One of those is also privacy granted in the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures and later interpreted in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Although, as Fairmont AP Government and Politics teacher Scott Byer was quoted in my story as saying, there are exceptions to the Fourth Amendment’s protections, these are only few in number called administrative searches. However, administrative searches can only go so far – they were never intended to give the government absolute control over the citizens and allow them to trample over their rights. Clearly now, administrative searches have exceeded their Constitutional limits. Seeing naked images (or outlines, as some people point out, trying to justify their choice to use them) of the average citizen is not going to prevent a terrorist attack; although I can possibly justify forcing the people on the watch lists to go through full-body scanners on the basis that there’s probable cause to search them.

However, when the government starts placing everyone under one blanket and forces the average flyer, who poses no imminent threat to the country, to go through these full-body scanners, then this country is no longer the arsenal of democracy; rather it’s the hotbed of paranoia.

Now I want to make one thing very, very clear. I love this country and don’t want to see anything happen to it or the citizens of this great nation. Terrorism is one of the greatest evils the world has ever seen, and we should take reasonable and Constitutional measures to protect ourselves from the terrorists who are out to destroy us. But part of what makes America so great is that, in the process, we don’t trample on other people’s rights. In the past we have been known to come down hard on terrorists (as well we should – they’re enemies of the country), but we have to draw the line somewhere. By putting our foot down now we have a chance to preserve the American ideal of democracy and force the government to take a step back. Search those who pose a threat and put others through the regular security measures. This is the Constitutional way of doing things – the American way of doing things.