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WASHINGTON – In the aftermath of the attempted terrorist attack on a Northwest plane on Christmas Day, there has been controversy over what kind of security measures, such as body scanners and watch lists, are advisable. The American Civil Liberties Union calls for the implementation of effective security policies that pose the most minimal threat possible to Americans' privacy.
"The attempted attack on Christmas Day could easily have ended tragically, and we're all grateful it didn't. The government must find out what went wrong and what more can be done to protect our nation against terrorism," said Michael German, ACLU Washington Legislative Office policy counsel and former FBI agent. "But while it's important to react quickly, it's also important to react wisely and to adopt procedures that will be both truly effective and the least invasive to Americans' privacy. Electronic strip-searching of innocent people, racial profiling and bloated, poorly managed terrorist watch lists do not stop terrorist attacks, but they do infringe upon Americans' rights and waste valuable resources."
Full body scanners present serious threats to personal privacy and are of unclear effectiveness. Plastic explosives can be hidden from them as can explosives hidden in body cavities, which Al Qaeda has already used to launch attacks. Body scanners produce strikingly graphic images, creating pictures of virtually naked bodies that reveal not only sexual organs but also intimate medical details such as colostomy bags and mastectomy scars. That degree of examination amounts to a significant – and for some people humiliating – assault on personal privacy to which travelers in a free country should not automatically be subjected. If these machines are used, it must only be when the facts suggest it is absolutely necessary and not on all travelers; in a non-discriminatory fashion assuring the strongest degree of privacy possible; and when subject to strict oversight to prevent against the misuse of the images.
The current terror watch lists, which are bloated and keep innocent travelers from flying, must be seriously revamped. Their unmanageability distracts from and fails to identify true terrorist threats, as the recent event demonstrates. To be effective, no-fly lists must focus on true terrorists who pose a genuine threat to flight safety.
"We must invest our security resources in investigations based upon reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing so we can more effectively identify and stop attackers before they get to any airport. We must also hold our law enforcement and intelligence agencies accountable to ensure that the vast powers they've been given over the past nine years are being used effectively and responsibly," said German. "While we must work fervently to provide the best security possible, Americans can't afford to be complacent about giving up civil liberties, especially to ineffective policies that don't make us safer. Providing for security and liberty is not a zero-sum game. In America we should strive to be both safe and free."