Human rights, security and the surrender of dignity

Posted By: admin

Published to Privacy Concerns on Sep 30, 2010

Yet with each successive ‘terrorist’ attempt previous measures that were brought in to combat such attacks are questioned as not being strong enough. Further measures are proposed, and often adopted, and the public rarely questions or complains, instead accepting the information they’re presented with.

Enter the latest new kid on the block – full body scanners.

With vocal support from political representatives and lobbyists such as Michael Chertoff the scanning devices are being promoted via the mainstream media as a necessary measure to stop hidden explosives and bomb making materials being concealed upon a passenger’s body. Privacy, security and health concerns are quickly explained away and any dissenting voices are challenged by the argument of not letting the terrorists win or the classic line, if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to fear.

There are, however, a number of problems posed by consenting to the use of such devices.

Firstly, what civilised society would demand that its citizens, when selected, submit to the digital equivalent of a strip search? Particularly with citizens who may, for very legitimate reasons, not wish to be subjected to such a process? What of the rape survivor who may relive the feelings of violation under such an intrusive process? Or a devout religious practitioner whose faith is incompatible with this approach to security? Maybe the pre–op transexual who wishes to avoid public scrutiny and therefore exposure would also feel uncomfortable with being selected?

Maybe these are extreme examples but there are many people, from all walks of life, who would not feel comfortable with undergoing such screening, regardless of their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, gender or social status. What about the rights of the individual to not want to be subjugated to such an ordeal? What consent was asked by those who rushed for the scanners to be installed?

Secondly, what truly democratic state would deny travelers the right to alternative, less intrusive methods of security screening? Methods that respect and work with the individuals right to privacy are key elements in the balance of power and responsibility between the state and its citizens. A balance that has been steadily eroded over the past decade as more and more measures have been brought in to protect us from alleged terrorist plots. Measures that, upon each new, successive attack or attempt are seen as not being up to the task leading to calls for stronger security screening.

Thirdly, what criteria exists for selection if, as we are told by the government, that decisions will not be made on cultural or racial grounds? If the process is random then any security afforded by the selection is purely subjective, dependent solely on the choice of the airport staff. This, in and of itself, makes the notion of security weak at best. Who’s to say that particular prejudices and biases would not determine the people who are selected?

Finally, where does it end? The more power is given to the state in determining what procedures and measures its citizens will be expected to submit to, the less power citizens have in determining what is and isn’t proportionate and therefore acceptable. What real security exists for a people where power is ever more concentrated in the hands of its government? Where their human rights are constantly traded off against ‘necessary security measures’ in a war against terror that appears indefinite and open ended? What new technologies and security measures are waiting in the wings ready to be introduced at a moment’s notice? What civil liberties are expected to be traded to keep us all ‘safe’ from the terrorists? What arguments and events will be brought forward to gain our acquiescence?

In the final analysis the words of Benjamin Franklin should serve as a warning to us all, "those who trade liberty for security deserve neither."


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