Airport Security: Protection vs. Civil Liberties Essay Sample

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Airport Security

            There are at least three major ways to secure an airport and there are at least two major ways to screen and secure cargo shipments. When it comes to airport security the first line of defense is the relatively low-tech use of fence, barriers, and walls. This security procedure is augmented by security patrols and surveillance cameras.

            The second way to secure an airport is to confirm the identity of the travelers. One of the most popular technologies used is biometrics – the use of computers to check fingerprints, retinal scans, and even facial patterns to alert authorities of a potential terrorist trying to board an aircraft (Tyson, J. & E. Grabianowski, 2010). There is also the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System or CAPPS which is like a database that will gather and store data regarding personal information of the travelers when they book their flights and this will help in risk assessment (Tyson, J. & E. Grabianowski, 2010).

            The third way to secure an airport is to use detectors and scanners to identify the items carried by travelers. The most common type is the metal detector to determine if a person passing through is carrying a concealed weapon. Deadly weapons and explosives that may not be detected by metal detectors can be picked up by X-ray machines and CT scanner.

            When it comes to cargo shipments a very helpful procedure is to use tamper evident and tamper resistant seals. This obviously prevents terrorists to tamper with the cargo. These seals have tamper-evident tapes that help security officials to easily detect if someone has tampered with the cargo (Elias, 2007).

            The next level of protection is to use various screening technologies to detect explosives, incendiary devices, chemical and biological weapons and even nuclear weapons. These screening technologies include x-ray screening, x-ray based explosive detection systems, and chemical trace detection systems (Elias, 2007). These technologies greatly improve airport security meausures.

Balancing Security with Civil Liberties

            After September 11 there was no longer any doubt that airport security has too many holes in it and has to be plugged quickly and effectively. This means a rapid response to improve airport security.  Everyone agrees in principle except in one aspect of this campaign which is the tension created between the need to beef up security and the need to respect civil liberties.

            According to the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU there is a way to increase airport security without compromising civil liberties. The ACLU suggested that the government and airports security officials must be guided by three principles: 1) security measures must be effective and is not only for show; 2) the level of intrusion or the level of security that will invade privacy is proportionate to the perceived level of risk; and 3) there should be no discrimination and travelers should not be searched or questioned based on race, ethnic origin or religion (ACLU, 2002).

Security measures must be genuinely effective and should not create a false sense of security. If this is accomplished then travelers are willing to be inconvenienced if they see that the security officials knew what they are doing and that the security measures in place are indeed a deterrent against terrorism. They will be frustrated if this is not the case.

The level of intrusion must be equal to the perceived risk. This means that x-ray machines and metal detectors should be used instead of body cavity searches if there is low risk. There is no need to harass a traveler if there is no probable cause or any evidence that will make security officials suspect that this particular individual is a terrorist.

When it comes to civil liberties there is no other topic that is as sensitive as race, gender, and ethnicity. In order to create that balance between the need to increase airport security and the need to maintain a high regard for civil liberties it is of utmost importance that travelers should not be subjected to extraordinary security measures just because of the color of their skin, their religion or their ethnic origin.


American Civil Liberties Union. (2002). “Airport Security: Increased Safety Need Not Come at

the Expense of Civil Liberties.” Retrieved 04 August 2010 from

Elias, B. (2007). “CRS Report for Congress: Airport Security.” Congressional Research Service.

            Retrieved 04 August 2010 from

Tyson, J. & E. Grabianowski. (2010). “How Airport Security Works.” Retrieved 04 August 2010


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