Risks, Ethics, and Airport Security

By O'Malley, Pat | Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Risks, Ethics, and Airport Security


O'Malley, Pat, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice


The central issues addressed in this article concern the political and ethical implications of shifting from a rule-based system of airport security to one based on risk. To begin with, however, it needs to be made clear in what this shift consists. What are the practices that are being contrasted? "Rule-based" or "bureaucratic" security refers to a setting characterized by uniform practices in which every case is accorded the same degree of scrutiny. This implies that, in the absence of some specific issue that draws attention to a specific case, all cases are treated as equal risks--probably meaning, in practice, that all cases will be treated as moderate risks. Thus, from this perspective, the gist of the issue regarding rule-based versus risk-based models of security would appear to focus on issues relating to selective attention given to high-risk cases. Yet once this is said, it is immediately clear that risk- and rule-based approaches are not mutually exclusive. For example, the "specific issues" that do draw attention to certain individuals are, at least in a loose sense, risk based. Such matters are likely to be things that indicate risks to security staff even though these are not necessarily generated by statistical data or security information. Such attention might be generated out of the working theories of security staff, built up out of years of experience and/or learned on the job from others. In this sense, rule-based regimes of security frequently include an informal apparatus for assessing risks. This being the case, a move to a "risk-based" approach will not necessarily entail a radical transformation but, rather, will represent the formalization and intensification of practices that are already in place. By this I mean both that risk will become the central issue in every case and that the model for assessing risk will be formalized in the form of a risk schedule or some other practice based on risk profiles and risk factors. Risk will be assessed not just by the official on the spot, according to personal experience or professional knowledge, but by a formal technique of risk calculation.

Moving toward such a risk-based model of security requires being reasonably clear about the precise nature of the risk technique being deployed. I would suggest that judgement about the costs and benefits of deploying risk will always need to focus on the specific technique involved, because risk is a fairly abstract technology involving the probabilistic prediction of harmful outcomes. While it is possible to draw some conclusions from the abstract form of risk--as I will attempt to do shortly--we need always to look at the specific ways in which risk is deployed, the other practices with which it is articulated, and so on. There is, for example, a world of difference between risk-based screening for cancer and risk-based techniques for apprehending alcohol-affected drivers. While both may deploy a rather similar probabilistic model, the moral character, social meaning, and personal consequences of each are very different. In this sense, risk itself accounts for a rather small part of the social and political nature of practices that are nevertheless regarded as "risk-based." This rather crucial point having been made, there are, however, certain broad characteristics of risk-based approaches that do warrant attention in this context.

Constructing the database: Self-fulfilling prophecies

Risk is always based on the adequacy of the data/intelligence that go into creating the predictive instruments. One of the problems with calculating risk in this way is that risk can be very conservative. Any given risk-forecasting technique will tend to reproduce the data and the assumptions on which it is based, so that a vicious circle of probability is set up. Racial profiling in relation to crime, for example, is usually based on official conviction rates. Yet conviction rates may be shaped by such factors as police "working culture," the assumptions of judges and prosecutors, and the social distribution of resources such as the ability to appoint defence council rather than relying on public defenders. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Risks, Ethics, and Airport Security
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.