Air travel has quickly become an infamous inconvenience in American life.
As a direct result of the Sept. 11 attacks, Congress passed the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, which created the Transportation Security Administration, an organization tasked with improving airport security by way of more thorough screening procedures for passengers and their baggage. Since then, many new security measures have come into effect, requiring all passengers to remove their shoes and restricting liquid carry-ons.
Unfortunately, following the Christmas Day attempt to bomb a Northwest flight by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old man with purported ties to Al Qaeda, it seems inevitable that airport security will become even more of a hassle. The TSA is looking to expand the use of full-body scanning machines, which are able to identify weapons, explosives and wires that evade normal metal detectors. But in addition to detecting hidden contraband, these machines scan through clothing and generate a black-and-white photo of the body, raising concerns about privacy. Understandably, the American Civil Liberties Union is opposed to taking such measures to tighten security.
Since April 2008, full-body scan machines have already been in partial use at Los Angeles International Airport, which is frequented by USC students. The Los Angeles airport police union is now urging the machines be a requirement for every passenger. Many people might find this inconvenient.
In looking at the overall goal, however, it seems much more important to remain safe and secure. President of the Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association Marshall McClain recently released a statement in support of the full-body scan: “All available technology and tools must be used to fix an obvious gap in security that puts airline travelers and crew members at risk. Testing of whole-body scanners at LAX has shown them to be highly effective in keeping dangerous materials off airplanes.”
The photo produced by the scan blurs out every passenger’s face and is instantly deleted after viewing. Also, a study by the American College of Radiology concluded that the radio waves used in the screening process are in no way harmful.
These full-body scans may also be preferable to an alternative safety procedure — more thorough body pat-downs, akin to police frisking. A test was conducted in 2007 at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, where passengers had a choice between doing a full-body scan or getting a pat-down. According to the TSA, 90 percent of passengers chose to be scanned.
The current pat-down system is generally ineffective, as only the arms and legs are touched. Usually weapons will be hidden in more concealed places, such as the groin area that are off-limits when conducting pat-down searches — a security gap Abdulmutallab took advantage of.
Critics of the full-body scan machine also question the extra amount of time it would require travelers to arrive at the airport. As it is, people tend to arrive at the airport hours before their flight. An added full-body scan, which takes roughly 30 seconds to complete, could potentially tack on an hour or more to travel time. But though spending another hour lounging on the beach during a vacation beats the heck out of waiting in line at the noisy airport, it would be wise to take the extra precautions to ensure a safe arrival in the first place.
Abdulmutallab’s attempted bombing revealed weaknesses in the current air travel system. It seems that once an event like this occurs, everybody gets frightened and airport security steps up in response, but, after a while without incident, things start to get lax again.
Perhaps, if airports were to be consistent with strict security, potential terror attacks would be deterred. It would be ideal if we lived in a world where our airports didn’t have to be under terror watch at all but unfortunately, it’s a very real and very serious issue.
Cooperating with harsher security procedures might make air travel much more unpleasant, but at least we would fly with some peace of mind.
Rachel Vegas is an undeclared freshman.