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Published: Sunday, 5/9/2010

Let's not forget our right to privacy

Keon Pearson is a St. Francis de Sales High School student who won first place in the contest for Division 1. The topic was "Air Security and the 4th Amendment." The contest was sponsored by The Blade and the Toledo Bar Association.

In the eight and a half years since the attacks on 9/11, our nation has been shocked by a few near-tragedies on airplanes. As a response to these threats, our government has established a systematic policy for detecting and preventing potential attacks. Because this new policy requires pat-downs, strip-searches, and full-body scans, it is criticized as too invasive of privacy. Increasingly, the question has become, "At what point has a person's right to privacy been breached?"

The ACLU has succinctly stated that while the government must offer the best security, it also must protect Americans' civil liberties. I agree entirely. To permit unwarranted strip-searches and full-body scans would deny Americans their right to privacy, a right explicitly granted in the Fourth Amendment, which states, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." I implore the U.N. to enforce international security systems that effectively screen passengers of airplanes, but do not offend their right to privacy. The system in place now provides a perfect balance between safety and privacy.

It must be acknowledged that as world populations become increasingly mobile and interconnected, Americans will be targeted more frequently than in the past. The government uses this increasing risk to justify broader interpretation of the Fourth Amendment. After the Christmas Day bombing attempt, President Obama stated his goal to "take all necessary steps to protect the country." He is rightly concerned for the safety of our people in these times of increasing anti-American sentiment. However, as of yet, he has not detailed what exactly he thinks is necessary to prevent future attacks.

Our nation's transportation defense system must be based on effectiveness and legality. First, it must prove that invasive measures such as full-body scans are actually effective in decreasing risk to American lives. Scanners would detect containers and metals, but they would not detect specific chemicals like PETN, which was used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas Day Bomber. These scanners do, however, reveal very private details of people's bodies. Many people justifiably feel very uncomfortable with strangers viewing their exposed bodies.

Full-body scanners are ineffective in detecting some modern weapons, and they invade our privacy. Furthermore, it is unreasonable to conduct invasive searches on all passengers, because such searches are time consuming and unnecessary for most passengers. How can we justify the increased use of such measures? We cannot. To prove this point, I offer this: Even though our current domestic and international security regulations do not utilize invasive searches, there have been very few successful terrorist attempts in recent years.

The current system of defense has been relatively effective at preventing attacks. This system has also protected our right to privacy. If the system is not broken, why fix it?

We must not allow the recent tragedy aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to make us so impassioned that we spurn sound judgment in assessing our right to privacy.



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