Bedd Gelert has suggested we should have a discussion about airport security and the underpinning policy approaches (security profiling or blanket coverage of restrictions). Since I am about to embark on a journey from Pisa to Stansted airport where travel time will be doubled as a result of security provisions that will make me feel not one wit safer I am happy to oblige. I am rather in favour of almost no security provisions of any kind on most flights except for those where special precautions are justifiable. This might include transatlantic flights for example, and flights to and from known terrorist risk areas such as Israel and, formerly, Northern Ireland) And for those few flights for there to be active security profiling instead of blanket security coverage.
The majority of the security measures seem utterly ludicrous for the majority of flights and the chances of the ordinary passenger being a bomber are so small as to be not worth worrying about in statistical terms. No doubt we will continue to have suicide bombers but is it worth the costs in human terms to take steps to stop them other than through the intelligence services and targeted measures? It might be much better for our own peace of mind to do nothing very much on most flights except for the airline to have a much better picture of who is travelling. Bolting the door after the stable door has bolted, like universal restricting of carry-on fluids after an attempt or the random X-raying of high heels after a failed shoe bomber is more or less incomprehensible to me. Now we are probably going to have total body scanners to detect what we’ve got in our underwear. I’ve got nothing against being scanned personally, and the exposure that these machines subject individuals to seems minimal compared with medical investigations but it won’t it simply add to the many hours wasted at airports and add further to the illusion that machines can exclude the determined fanatic? The problem with blanket security is that it creates an unnecessary unreasonable fear in those subject to it and therefore makes the impact of a terrorist attack even more attractive to those that perpetrate them.
I know that many profoundly disagree with me about this and many feel safer as a result of these measures and I wish we had some real facts and figures to help us make up our minds. While agreeing that security profiling is a better approach I can see that applying it in a practical way on a world-wide basis may be difficult.
About three times a year I drive to the Continent through Eurotunnel. There are no general individual security restrictions of any kind either going or returning but there are targeted searches of individuals traveling alone and others where the staff assess there is a risk, plus security analysis of the cars themselves. There are no individual measure on cross-channel ferries either. Is the risk of flying from Stansted to Pisa greater? Almost certainly not.
When I traveled with El Al to Jerusalem a few years ago I was subjected to several searching interviews at the airport on checking in; there was a degree of chaos but they were looking for specific risk characteristics and that seemed to me to be more focused on real risk. I’ll be interested to hear what others think.