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Playing the Blame Game December 30, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in Uncategorized.
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In the wake of the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack thousands of articles have swamped the internet, groping for somewhere to place the blame. The problem with blame is that it falsely pacifies us and leads us to believe that a complex situation has an easy remedy. And while the TSA, the Dutch government, and fearful citizens all have their suggested remedies, we must not forget the lessons we learned after 9-11 and the swift instating of the Patriot Act, which later made us ask if we had not surrendered some freedoms (namely, privacy) hastily, because of fear. We are now in danger of compromising our freedoms once again.

NPR.org has posted an article discussing the innovative methods of airport security that are in discussion and development. Probably the most controversial one is body-image scanning technology. A number of months ago I saw this technology discussed on a morning news program. The new body-imaging software shows a detailed image of the person’s body, including the parts that would make your grandmother blush. The program then interviewed a wide range of Americans who had widely differing opinions on whether such a technology was necessary or unconstitutionally invasive. At the time of the airing of the program, the technology seemed superfluous, but now, after this last thwarted terrorist attempt, the Dutch have decided to adopt the technology. But will this really help?

Airlines already use the “puffer” machine that purports to detect odd chemical particles, but with limited results. Other such proposed controversial security methods include profiling and detailed verbal interviews as practiced in Israel, which is renowned for their airport security. Probably the most innovative and least invasive security measure is what NPR describes as a method used and perfected in retail – looking for suspicious behavior, namely things like “increased sweating or heavy breathing.” While this sounds promising, it would seem hard to find accuracy in an environment where many people are already nervous about flying, and likely to show increased signs of anxiety as it is.

So what is the solution? Do we surrender our privacy, our right to normalcy (some proposed safety measures include restricting use of the bathroom on flights), in the name of safety? Or do we acknowledge that these drastic safety measures do little to actually protect us?

NPR.org, in another article, questions just that by examining the “under-reaction” to news of the attempted terror plot, asking “Have Americans, in a post-Sept. 11 world, become a bit blase about terrorism in the sky?” While the article takes neither side, explaining in a purely psychological manner why some people shrugged at the news (namely because the failing of the plot lowered the “dread quality” that causes people to overreact), it does point out the inefficacy (or superfluity) of all security measures by quoting risk communication consultant, David Ropeik, who states that, “We have also adjusted emotionally after Sept. 11 to the risk of airplane terrorism — even though, statistically, the risk of flying was the same before the attacks as after the attacks.” What do these articles prove? They prove that airport security should not be the focus of our energies. They prove, in light of the new information that “Abdulmutallab was added to a massive database of potential terrorists after his father warned U.S. diplomats about his son’s extremism” (NPR.org), that America’s intelligence agencies are the real ones to blame in their lack of communication and cohesion. I have to agree with Obama on this one and call it a “systemic failure”.

What do you think is the best solution to the struggle between privacy and safety?

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