Invasion of Personal Privacy During Air Travel

Insured protection during air travel is essential as it protects passengers from acts of terrorism or kidnapping. Prior to the 9/11 bombing attacks of the Twin Towers in New York, security measures were not considered as a grave matter as is the case today.

However, following this heinous attack, airlines and security agencies have been very keen in examining passengers’ information and devising possible methods of preventing any further attacks (Taipale 2004). On the basis of the foregoing argument, personal information is required to ensure the safety of the people. Other than conducting the usual physical searches before boarding a plane, most of the airports and airlines have intensified their security measures to great lengths.

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For example, air travelers are now being exposed to thorough intrusive and extensive searches (Ghobrial and Irvin 76). The new security procedures have been labeled as a form of personal privacy invasion in the name of ensuring security. However, supporters of the move see it as a necessary precaution that ensures the restoration of passengers’ security.

Financial data and transactions updates are some of the private data that is being accessed at the individual level. Exposure of the information to the airline databases is prone to security breaches as many public and private entities can get hold of the information and use it for their own personal and selfish interests. Other information accessed includes home addresses, full names, home phone numbers, and credit cards, among other documents containing personal information.

To some extent, this represents invasion of personal privacy but on the positive side, it ensures security of the passengers, the airliner, and all other involved stakeholders. The essay paper explores the possibility of justifying whether invasion of personal privacy is a necessary security procedure for the insured protection during air travel. The preposition of the essay is that Invasion of personal privacy is a necessary security procedure for the insured protection during air travel.

After the attempted ‘Christmas Bomber’ in 2009 when a Nigerian national (Fiske 174) passed all the security checks and tried detonating a bomb that was concealed in his underwear, the issue of body full scan has brought a lot of controversy (Engle 2010). Opponents of the proposed scanning argue that it is invasion of security as the scanners will be able to view body contours and private parts (Engle 2010).

This has been opposed by people of diverse moral and religious views who see it a as a form of violating personal privacy. However, taking into account the potential damage to the passengers and the airline following such an explosion, then the intrusion of the privacy is worth the risk.

Also, killing passengers through an explosion is invasion of privacy on its own since the lives of people are at stake and an individual’s privacy is not much important compared to the risk involved. Using this kind of technology which invades personal privacy is only meant to prevent acts of terrorism, thus ensuring security (Taipale 2004).

The belief that the scanning will break the child pornographic laws and privacy cannot be compared with the danger posed to the lives of people. Although there has been no incidence in which a child has been seen to have committed a security breach, nonetheless, there is no age discrimination when terrorism acts are concerned.

Therefore, scanning minors should be viewed as a way of protecting the people since chances of security agents using the scanned images or positing them to the internet are very low. Those opposed to scanning on grounds that it invades personal privacy are justified to hold such a view but at the same time, we need to strike a balance between on the one hand, privacy and on the other hand, security.

In the event that minors are not scanned and are used to transport explosive devices unknowingly, resulting in the explosion of airplanes, the blame shall be on the security agencies for their reluctance to protect the lives of innocent citizens. Scanning of minors breaks the child porn law but since the same child is also receiving vital protection, on such grounds, there is a justification in implementing such rules.

Privacy has been seen as the “flashpoint for many security issues, a legal analysis begins with the fact that there is no unfettered constitutional right to anonymity” (Nicholson 241). Although the First Amendment allows the freedom of association and speech, the moment a person enters the public domain, some part of their privacy is invaded.

Nobody likes his/her privacy being invaded, but with the increased incidents of airplane attacks by terrorists, it is reasonable to sacrifice a bit of personal privacy for security procedures. The right to anonymity has been rendered weak by a five judge committee in the Hiibel v. Nevada case of June 2004 (Nicholson 241).

Although the case was basically not about airplane security, it emerged that the police did not break the Fifth Amendment by stopping Hibbel for search based on reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause. The court verdict was that no incidents of self incrimination by a police asking for identification were witnessed. It concluded that because of security reasons and procedures asking for a name is non testimonial and it does not invoke the Fifth Amendment (Nicholson 241).

Based on this, it can be argued that seeking personal information does not invoke the fifth amendment of the American constitution. This is because “security is a national defense issue” (OECD 95) and the government has all the reasons to defend its people from any acts that may jeopardize their security. It is the obligation of the government to protect its people from any insecurity issues.

The usual method of searching people and their luggage infiltrates the privacy of the passengers. However, from a logical point of view, going through the clothes of an individual as part of security procedures is reasonable even if it with be carried on basis of reasonable suspicion.

According to the TSA which is responsible for security measures at airports, the security measures need to be carried to ensure that no inconveniences are heightened to passengers as well as identifying high risk travelers and suspicious ones (Ghobrial and Irvin 77). For the positive side, the searches are made to protect and enhance security.

Personal information like credit cards, emails, bank accounts, and insurance (Fiske 181) can be used to by other parties to satisfy their needs if it falls in the wrong hands. This invades security of the people. However, this information and data from the FBI and other security agencies can be used for tracking and investigating any person with history of terrorism. The intention of the government is to keep the terrorists away from airlines and increase security (Ghobrial and Irvin 78).

The Privacy Act of 1974 is a major statute that governs the federal government in acquiring and using the records that contain personal information (Gindin 1997). However, the act has prohibited on the intrusion and the use of personal information without consent. It is also under the same act that allows the use of the information in some given circumstances.

Some of the circumstances include disclosure for routine checkups or use “for law enforcement purposes, and for protecting the health or safety of an individual” (Gindin 1997). Therefore, the law allows the use of personal information for enforcement and safety of the person. By information record, it implies any item or information of a particular person that may include financial transactions, identity number, criminal records, name, symbol, and any other identification assigned to an individual (Gindin 1997).

Based on the privacy law, a government agency that is concerned on security of an individual has the right to use private information for the protection of that individual as well as others. The act further points out that the information cannot be used for computer matching for foreign counter intelligence purpose as d in the Computer Matching and Privacy Act of 1988 (Gindin 1997).

This is seen as invasion of privacy which is against the human rights provisions. Nonetheless, some agreements have been reached between the EU and the US to share information of its passengers before they board planes for security reasons (Nicholson 244). The sharing of private information for security reasons is a measure to ensure that all people are safeguarded from any incidents of terror.

In the case of Kent v. Dulles (1958), Justice William O. Douglas said that “The right to travel is a part of the “liberty” of which the citizen cannot be deprived without due process of law under the Fifth Amendment” (Electronic Privacy Information Center).

He also added that movement in either US or outside was part of the US national heritage. This means that people can move from one destination to another without any restrictions. However, it points out that the liberty of travel can be deprived under due process as required by the law in the Fifth Amendment.

When personal checkups are carried the liberty of the people is not deprived but restored. After the 9/11 incident and the Christmas Bomber aviation security has been beefed up as part of security procedures. Several proposals like screeners, bag searching for bombs from innocent people, air marshals in flights do not implicate personal privacy interest (Electronic Privacy Information Center). The essence of all these measures is to differentiate a genuine air traveler and imposters who have hidden agenda.

This precautionary measure should not be seen as part of malicious invasion of personal privacy. It should be seen as a security procedure of ensuring the safety of the passengers in air travel as well as that of other stakeholders. The profiling through modern technology is not an incriminating act; it is an act that ensures the welfare of the people in whole is protected. Although personal invasion of privacy is incriminating, it is part of security procedure.

In my opinion, invasion of personal privacy is a necessary security procedure for the insured protection during air travel. Based on the increased insecurity in the air travel, it is reasonable to sacrifice some privacy for the purpose of security measures. It is also logical that a balance between law and privacy is reached to satisfy both sides.

Security of the people is fundamental and so is the safeguarding of the lives of people. Invading privacy for the reasons of the later is a necessary precaution that is usually undertaken to prevent any acts of terrorism or any threats to the people boarding an airline. Opponents’ arguments are that security checks invades the privacy of the people which is true. However, they don’t assess the other side of privacy invasion as part of security procedure and the benefits it has on the people.

Therefore, it can be concluded that Invasion of personal privacy is a necessary security procedure for the insured protection during air travel. It is a precautionary procedure that ensures the safety of people by eliminating any suspicious travelers who pose security threats to airlines.

It also ensures that terrorists are kept away from the airports since they cannot dare board airplanes knowing well they will undergo scrutiny. The security measures benefit the passengers from insecurity incidents that may put their lives in danger. The use of scanners which have been received with much opposition for they invade privacy would ensure the incidents like that of the Christmas Bomber do not occur again.

The measures have been put into place after it was discovered that the current mechanisms have no technological capacity of detecting non metallic bombs. The act of terrorism has been advanced technologically and this leaves no room for taking any chances. A balance between security and privacy is needed to stop the much ongoing debate from both sides.

Works Cited

Electronic Privacy Information Center. Air Travel Privacy. n.d. Web. 29 Oct. 2011. < http://epic.org/privacy/airtravel/>.

Engle, Thomas. “New airport security measures violate passengers’ privacy, dignity.” The Daily Athenaeum, 15 Nov. 2010. Web. 4 30 Oct 2011.

Fiske, Ian. “Failing to Secure the Skies: Why America has struggled to Protect Itself and how it can Change”. Virginia Journal of Law & Technology 15. 173 (2010): 174-195.

Ghobrial, Atef and Wes, A. Irvin. “Combating Air Terrorism: Some Implications to the Aviation Industry”. Journal of Air Transportation 9. 3 (2004):67-86.

Gindin, Susan E. “Lost and Found In Cyberspace: Informational Privacy in the Age of the Internet”. San Diego Law Review, 1153(2010): n. pag. Web. 29 Oct. 2011.

Nicholson, William C. Homeland Security Law and Policy. Springfield, Ill: C.C Thomas, 2005. Print.

OECD. Terrorism and International Transport: Towards Risk-Based Security Policy. Paris: OECD/ITF, 2009. Print.

Taipale, K. A. Data Mining and Domestic Security: Connecting the Dots to Make Sense of Data. The Columbia Science and Technology Law Review. 2004: n. pag. Web. 29 Oct. 2011.

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