Airport Security: Privacy vs. Safety

By Holbrook, Emily | Risk Management, March 2010 | Go to article overview

Airport Security: Privacy vs. Safety


Holbrook, Emily, Risk Management


Since September 11, airline security throughout the United States has increased dramatically. But despite improved measures in everything from border patrol to airport screening, there have still been multiple attempted terrorist attacks aboard both domestic and international flights.

In December 2001, Richard Reid, also known as the shoe bomber, was wrestled to the ground by passengers and crew as he attempted to ignite an explosive device hidden in his shoe while aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. In 2007, passengers once again subdued a hijacker--this time a belligerent, gun-wielding man aboard a plane over the Canary Islands. In 2008, a Somali woman attempted to hijack an Air New Zealand flight and have it re-routed to Australia. Then, in November 2009, a group of armed men failed to hijack a flight over Somalia, thanks to a group of quick-thinking passengers.

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The most recent in-air threat happened December 25 when Nigerian-born Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, attempted to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear while aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

So how was this individual able to come so close to succeeding with his allegedly al Qaeda-linked terrorist attack when airport security was so greatly tightened after September 11, 2001? Many feel that question is easily answered. The CIA, Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration simply failed.

According to White House officials, various strands of intelligence were available that, if put together properly, would have made sure that the bombing suspect was put on a "no-fly" list preventing him from boarding. "We had in our possession information that likely could have prevented or disrupted the incident on the 25th of December from happening," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

After the Christmas scare, the Obama administration created new rules specifying that citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Cuba, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen, must receive a pat down and extra security check of their carry-on baggage before boarding any plane headed toward the United States. The new rules have been heavily criticized by rights advocates and these countries, most of which have large Muslim populations. But the administration may have felt it had few options left.

One other option is the implementation of full-body scanners in all airports. In fact, officials in Amsterdam announced soon after the December 25 incident that they would begin using scanners on all passengers bound for the United States. And Australia recently announced it would spend $200 million over four years to boost security at all Australian airports. Additionally, Obama has directed the Department of Homeland Security to speed the installation of $1 billion in advanced technology equipment for the screening of passengers. He has requested body scanners at U.S. airports and asked that assistance be given to international airports, enabling them to upgrade their existing equipment in order to protect passengers on flights headed to the United States.

In late January, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano traveled to Spain and Switzerland to meet with counterparts, foreign ministers and airline executives in a push for an international set of airline security rules and regulations set by the Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations. Napolitano also announced that body-scanning machines would now be seen at airports in London, Paris and Frankfurt, Germany.

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In the United States, these scanners have been a rare sight in airports, and not just due to a lack of resources. The House of Representatives voted to ban the use of them in June. …

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