Monday, 18 January 2010

Passenger demand, not state panic, should decide air security

(The following appeared in Oxford Student, 0th Week, HT10 - January 2010)

How do you turn a failed bomb plot into a successful act of terrorism? Just add government overreaction, and some clever marketing from security companies.

The recent attempt to blow up a plane by a UCL engineering graduate was pretty pathetic when measured up againstprevious attacks. Before they had the advantages of intricate planning and simultaneous execution. But just like the BBC, Al Qaeda's Xmas schedule becomes less exciting with each passing year, and considering the explosives were hidden in Mr Abdulmutalla's underpants, the phrase 'damp squib' seems more pertinent than ever. Yet there is no act of terrorism so sloppily planned and half-arsed in execution that it won't be used to introduce crazier controls on the public.

The addition of full-body scanners to the airport panopticon is just the latest symptom of the British Government's psychosexual obsession with getting under the skin of its citizens. The scanners may or may not turn out to be bad for travellers' health, but they don't do much for our dignity. Indeed, no one has yet shown how these £100,000 systems would have prevented this latest attempt, but rather less well-funded Somali authorities recently had no trouble spotting a
similarly equipped would-be terrorist.

The solution is to remove airport security from the Government's portfolio. Ensure airlines are liable should their planes fall out of the sky and you will find them perfectly capable of handling the issue themselves. Airlines could compete, offering different policies depending on whether customers valued a faster check-in or tighter security. Some would use armed marshals like some Israeli flights already do, others could rely on having more advanced bookings and
data checking.

But the pomp of security theatre like full body scanners, popular with Governments rather than customers, would be off the agenda.

Nick Cowen is President of the Oxford Libertarian Society

No comments: