I just read an article on CNN.com about a “pilot program” to observe airline passengers for signs of stress and fear in order to pick out potential threats to air safety (i.e.: potential hijackers). The news isn’t new to me…I remember the program being announced several months ago, a hotly debated topic at the time by privacy experts. As I understand it, the system kind of works like this:
A passenger with the intention of doing something malicious once on board an aircraft will display signs of fear, anticipation, or anxiety that, even though well-hidden to the casual observer such as you or I, will be noticeable to a behavioral specialist. As I understand the system, that individual is then most likely flagged for “secondary screening” (translation: we’re going to pull you out of line, go through all of your stuff, shake you down, run metal detector wands around you, and when you arrive at your destination you will discover that we have rummaged through your luggage with absolutely no respect for your personal belongings after picking your lock…but we’ve left you a courtesty card explaining the process and a number to call with any concerns, not that it will do you any good).
But see, this also means that a passenger who is on his way to see his girlfriend after being away for a summer, or to ask her father for permission to marry, and is anxious with anticipation will show similar symptoms and be pulled out of line, etc.
Or a passenger who is going to a huge job interview and is nervous about the next few hours of her life will be pulled out of line, etc.
I think America’s catch-phrase should be, “Please protect us! Here’s our freedom!” Because somehow we think it is an even exchange. Our freedom is what we’re trying to protect here, what our soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen are dying heroically in other parts of the world for us to have. And we give it away, again and again, in the interest of “security.” Less and less is needed for someone to be treated as though they are an enemy when in fact they are only a citizen, for someone to be harassed in the name of “security.” Even less is needed for them to monitor our telephone conversations and, who knows, probably this blog post. And, as I watch the reports, I really don’t feel as though we’re all that “secure.”
And one day (very soon I fear), we will awake to an Orwellian world that spiraled out of control from the best of intentions, discovering that only those behind the cameras are truly “secure.”