the Gauntlet

Security tramples basic rights

Publication YearIssue Date 

Standing in line, innocently waiting to check in at the airport, a man is suddenly pulled aside by security guards, whisked away to a secluded room. He is then told to stand absolutely still while they unceremoniously open his suitcase, meticulously examining every personal article as he is forced to stand in a corner without sound or movement, or risk being arrested. What place could this possibly be? Israel, China, or perhaps Iraq? No, this very event took place in Palm Springs, California, to my neighbour, a middle aged Caucasian man on vacation with his wife only weeks ago.

Ever since September 11, the U.S. government has gone to extremes to ensure no potential terrorist will ever be able to even come close to an airplane, paying no attention to the thousands of innocent passengers who are now subject to a level of security and paranoia reminiscent of communist countries. This insatiable desire for increased security has far overstepped reasonable bounds and is an unwelcome intrusion into ordinary citizens' private lives and rights.

Random checks involving anything from rifling through personal items to doing a thorough full-body check with the hand-held metal detector are now routinely performed on unsuspecting passengers in airports all across North America--even Calgary is not immune. These invasions of privacy under the guise of safeguarding passengers are conducted without any regard to an individual's basic right to privacy. While innocently waiting in a line up for the security check in Calgary, my own mother, the very epitome of a harmless Suzy-homemaker, was abruptly pulled aside by security, who proceeded to empty her purse, scrutinizing every item meticulously, including a metal detector scan of her paperback and a thorough examination of the contents of her wallet. Since when did terrorists hide bombs in a change purse?

This unwelcome and unwarranted intrusion into peoples' private lives is a flagrant violation of the principle that one is innocent until proven guilty. It is thoroughly humiliating to be treated as a criminal in such a disrespectful manner, and seems like things are only going to get worse. The United States has decided that Canadian citizens who are born in certain target countries such as Sudan or Libya may be subject, to not only rigorous interrogation, but also fingerprinting. This is necessary for criminals, certainly, but not harmless vacationers who will be targeted and treated as potential terrorists solely because they had the misfortune to be born in the wrong country.

Although some security is definitely necessary before boarding any aircraft, the unwarranted paranoia and excesses in safety measures are not only inconvenient hassles, but also gross violations of basic rights. These newly installed security measures are much more likely to anger and embarrass innocent travellers than expose evil terrorists loaded with enough TNT to blow up the planet. Instead of treating every traveler like a potential terrorist, airports should maintain their pre-September 11 level of security, which for the most part successfully achieved the delicate balance between a citizen's right to privacy and assurance of passenger safety.