While I am sometimes accused of being “soft on terror” because of my views of the war on terror (or whatever it is called now) in general and airport security in particular, I consider my approach to be a rational one. Since I am often cast as an “intellectual”, I feel somewhat obligated to do the intellectual thing and present a principle rather than just taking a view based on how I feel about one thing and then holding an inconsistent view on a similar thing just because I happen to feel differently about that.
My general principle for security is that a security method should be assessed based on the effectiveness of the method, the probability of the threat the method is supposed to counter and the degree to which it violates or infringes on legitimate rights/liberties, the relevant consequences, and the cost of the method. As such, this is a cost benefit analysis. If a method counters a likely threat effectively and does so without a disproportionate violation of rights/liberties and cost, then the method would seem to be acceptable. Otherwise, there would be reasonable grounds to reject the method.
Obviously, I do not have an exact formula and specific methods can be subject to reasonable debate. For example, I think that the full body scans could be effective, that the threat they counter is very unlikely, that the method violates privacy rights too much, and the scanners are too expensive. As such, I am against the full body scanners. However, all these points can be argued.
As another example, I am opposed to the employment of 3,000 (or so) “behavior detection officers.” While I suppose that it is good that these folks are employed, they seem to be rather ineffective: of the 266,000 referrals made since 2006, only 0.7% have even led to arrests. Hardly a high success rate for the cost. Given that “behavior detection” is, at best, an infant science, this is hardly surprising. As such, my view is that this is not a wise use of limited resources. Naturally, this is subject to debate as well.
One thing I have found rather interesting about security is that many people seem to operate on at least two standards: one is for things like the war on terror and the other is for almost everything else.
For example, someone who might balk at a law that prevents parents from smoking in the car with their kids (thus putting their kids at risk for various serious health problems) might think that full body scans and pat downs are acceptable because they help keep use safe from a threat (however incredibly unlikely the threat might be). This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state has the right to violate rights to counter threats, then this right would seem to apply to both situations.
As another example, someone who is opposed to the state getting involved in health care (even though lack of health insurance leads to many deaths), restricting pollution (even though pollution is harmful), or regulating business (even though many business have shown an unrelenting tendency to behave badly, such as acting in ways that wrecked the economy) might be fine with things like enhanced interrogation, secret prisons, and assassinations. This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state is in the business of keeping us safe, then this should apply to keeping us safe from not only terrorists but also diseases, pollution, and dangerous business practices.
In my own case, I use my principle consistently to assess whether a security method is acceptable or not. So, for example, I assess state regulation of business based on the efficiency of the method, the likelihood of harm, the possible violation of rights/liberties and the cost. In the light of the catastrophic damage done to the economy that can be causally linked to business practices, it seems reasonable to impose regulations on such behavior. Letting business regulate itself in the hopes that they will act responsibly or be “corrected” by market forces is on par with removing all airport security and hoping that the terrorists will self-regulate or that the invisible hand will sort things out. The fact of the matter is that bad behavior generally requires an active counter.
Of course, the counter has to be weighed against the rights and liberties it infringes upon. So, for example, business folks do have rights and liberties that should be taken into account. Also, there can be relevant consequences in regards to limiting business too much. As some folks argue, business folks need a degree of freedom in order to make profits and keep the economy going. Likewise, the way people who travel by air can be treated should be limited by their legitimate rights.