ACLU Submits Statement On Aviation Security To Key Senate Committees

January 20, 2010 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union submitted testimony to three key Senate committees who are meeting today to discuss counterterrorism and airline security in the wake of the attempted Christmas Day attack. The Senate Judiciary Committee, the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hear from government officials on counterterrorism strategy and aviation safety.

In the wake of the attempted attack, the government has announced intensified airport screening of the citizens of 14 nations flying to the United States and there have been calls for the across-the-board implementation of full body scanners for all travelers. In its statement, the ACLU expressed its strong concern over the substantive policy changes being considered, including the expanded use of terror watch lists. The ACLU believes that each of these technologies greatly infringes on civil liberties and faces serious questions regarding their efficacy in protecting airline travelers.

“The government must act quickly to take all reasonable steps to close any holes in our security, but it must also act wisely and in a manner consistent with our values,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, acting director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “All of these policies should be thoroughly debated regarding their efficacy in protecting air travelers and combating terrorism. New security technologies must be genuinely effective, rather than merely creating a false sense of security, and must minimize privacy violations. We need to ensure that the government enacts procedures that are effective and do not unnecessarily infringe upon our civil liberties.”

The ACLU also pointed out that the efficacy of whole body imaging (WBI) devices, racial profiling and our watch lists must be weighed against both their impact on civil liberties and their impact on the U.S. ability to implement other security measures. The size of our watch list creates numerous false positives, wastes resources and hides the real threats to aviation security, while targeting innocent people. WBI machines, which create strikingly revealing images of the human body, are extremely expensive and a British government study concluded they would not work to comprehensively defend against terrorist threats. Racial profiling, while an assault on the American principle of equal treatment, is ineffective and, worse still, counterproductive to counterterrorism strategies. The time and money spent on these questionable policies is time and money not spent on intelligence analysis or other law enforcement activity.

“Though Congress feels enormous pressure to ‘do something,’ there is no one measure or magic solution, and carelessly surrendering constitutional principles and American values is never the answer,” said Christopher Calabrese, ACLU legislative counsel. “Invasive screening mechanisms, enlarging already bloated watch lists, targeting on the basis of national origin – none of these approaches goes to the heart of what went wrong on Christmas Day. They are a dangerous sideshow – one that harms our civil liberties and ultimately makes us less safe.”

The ACLU’s statement is available online at:

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