ACLU Welcomes New Airport Security Measures; Says They Must Be Effective, Respectful of Privacy and Non-Discriminatory

September 20, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union expressed its support today for enhancing airport safety, but cautioned against implementing ineffective measures that foster a false sense of security.

“Heightened airport security and respect for civil liberties are not mutually exclusive — the former can be achieved without diminishing the latter,” said Rachel King, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Evidence has also shown that security measures that infringe on civil liberties are notoriously ineffective and create an illusion of security.”

As Congress held hearings today on a series of airport security proposals, the ACLU suggested a number of proven security measures that do not infringe on individual liberty. These measures include: increased training for security personnel, heightened screening of airline and airport security personnel, strict control of secured areas in airports, measures to improve security at foreign airports, a neutral party to which travelers can report lax security procedures and the matching of luggage with all passengers.

King said recent legislation introduced by Senator John Edwards (D-NC) is “a bill that, with a few minor changes, could serve as a blueprint for effective and fair enhancement of airport security.” The bill (S. 1429) is called the “Airport and Seaport Terrorism Prevention Act.”

The ACLU said it also supported the installation of biometric identification systems in airports – solely for airport personnel — for use in ensuring the integrity of secure areas in airports. These systems, which use iris scans and digital fingerprints, have a proven record in maintaining secure areas. King cautioned, however, that not all technology makes sense in the context of civil liberties. She cited both facial recognition technology and low-dose X-ray machines, sometimes known as “Body Scanners,” as examples of highly inaccurate, and invasive, technology.

“With facial recognition technology, which has a pitiful error rate of 43 percent, it is conceivable that Osama Bin-Laden himself could be staring directly into one of these machines and not register as a threat,” King said.

Long a vigorous opponent of discriminatory profiling in America, the ACLU again cautioned lawmakers today against allowing law enforcement to target air travelers based solely on race, ethnic origin or religion.

“The ACLU believes that safety and security ought to be top priorities in the nation’s airports,” King said. “The good news is that our skies can become safer while remaining free.”

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