In the words of President Obama, the world is now a ‘safer place’ due to Bin Laden’s death. There’s even been talk of a quicker withdrawal from Afghanistan. So why are we thinking about stepping up airport security?
According to a report in the Daily Mail, which cites ‘Whitehall sources’, the government is so concerned about a retaliatory attack following Bin Laden’s killing that it now wants to roll out full body scanners at airports across the UK.
About time, some say, but I’m not sure it’s the answer.
How body scanners compare
A small number of the scanners, which let security staff see the naked outline of passengers, are already being used at three UK airports: Heathrow, Birmingham and Manchester.
But by and large, the rest of us are still only checked in the old-fashioned way, with x-ray machines, explosives swabs and metal detectors. It can be slow and annoying, but it’s almost always effective – and most people leave with their dignity intact.
But what if someone tries to take plastic explosives onboard in their pants, like the Christmas Day ‘nappy bomber’ who first made body scanners a hot topic?
Well, concerns have long been raised over the scanners’ ability to detect plastics like those used in the bungled attack. And unless every single passenger goes through all of the checks available to security staff (unlikely, given the huge delays it would cause) there’s still a risk of people slipping through the net.
We need to find a balance
My point is that even with the best will in the world, you can never make any environment 100% safe from determined extremists. We can try, and of course we should, but there must be a balance between enforcing security and respecting the vast majority of law-abiding air travellers who just want to get from A to B.
So instead of adding an expensive and controversial new layer to an already complex system, wouldn’t the government be better off focusing on the reasons people feel compelled to harm one another in the first place?
What’s your view? Do you think body scanners are a valuable tool in the fight against terrorism – or would a different approach be better?