A reader writes:
>>Yesterday I deliberately opted out of the back-scatter machine at Toronto airport so as to see what the enhanced pat-down is about. I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is akin to a full-body massage. Just to be sure that I am not the only one who has this unusual view, I posted my experience on Facebook, and immediately several of my friends concurred.
Oh, I forgot to mention that these friends of mine are all gay.<<
In the "but seriously now" category, I think it's worth reviewing why people disagree about intimate pat-downs and the like. The more I think about this, the more discouraged I am that there is any feasible resolution.
Disagreements about, you know, "ideas." I think there are three big ones here, though not usually discussed explicitly:
1) Direct versus indirect costs of terrorism. All security measures are justified relative to the direct terrorist damage they might prevent. The plane that would come down, the bomb that would go off. But anyone who's ever thought about terrorist movements realizes that the real damage is indirect -- it's the fear they induce, the (over) reaction they provoke, the costs they impose as a society tries to guard against repetition. That's what Osama bin Laden noted in a tape after 9/11 -- that on the cheap, his attackers had not simply killed 3,000 people but induced a response that will cost the U.S. trillions of dollars over a decade or more (if the costs of war in Iraq are included, as they should be). More on the topic here.
So people who say, we can't forgo any measure that might reduce risk, are concentrating on the direct threat of terrorism. Those who say, let's consider the distortions we're imposing on ourselves, are thinking of the indirect risks. It's hard to bridge these outlooks.
2) Prevention versus resilience. People who study terrorism -- or crime, or natural disasters -- also generally conclude that after a certain point, it's better to work on ways to recover from an attack, or limit its damage, rather than spend limitlessly toward the impossible end of reducing the risk to zero. The design of the Internet is an extreme example: it was built, in the Cold War era, to repair itself (by re-routing traffic) if some nodes were destroyed in an attack. Or air bags in cars: we try very hard to prevent crashes, but since some still occur, air bags make them less dangerous. Or: fortified cockpit doors in airliners. There could well be another terrorist who gets onto an airplane with weapons; but there will never be "another 9/11," because cockpit-door design, and alert fellow passengers, will keep hijackers from turning a plane into a missile.
As applies to airport security, this approach means trying very hard to keep dangerous passengers and cargo off airplanes -- but also thinking about how the same money, effort, social friction, etc might be used in "resilience" efforts. Which leads to: