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Ethical And Practical Dilemmas At The Airport

Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

An estimated 24 million people will be flying this Thanksgiving holiday, and a growing number of them are confused, frustrated, or angry due to the new screening procedures in place at airports across the country.

As a fairly frequent traveler who sets off the alarm every time (knee replacement) , I have grown accustomed to waiting for a "female screener" to grab my carry-on items and begin the additional security check.

I knew everytime the  metal "wand" came near my right knee it would beep, signaing a metal implant and I would be cleared.

But recently the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has begun a hand "pat down" that has some travelers feeling -- well -- uncomfortable.

Instead of asking people to turn down the waistband on their  pants, the TSA employee does that. Rather that running the metal detector around your body and between your legs, the TSA employee uses a "hands on" method that can feel invasive and uncomfortable.

The woman who screened me yesterday advised me that I could opt for a private screening, but I didn't want to be late for my flight. When I asked what would happen if I had been wearing a dress rather than jeans, she said the hands-on procedure is the same. Of course, depending on what kind of dress or skirt I was wearing I might have to go to a private area and put on what she described as a "hospital gown" so that there could be full access to all the important places.  This makes the new full-body imaging system sound like a gift. (In fact, I have used it a number of times and I am a big fan.)

Putting aside the privacy and practical arguments, there seems to be a fairness issue to consider. From my observation, only those selected for "random" screening and people like me with metal medical implants are subject to the additional scrutiny.

I fully support efforts to secure the airports from terrorism, highjackings, or other dangers. But I am equally concerned about the rail system, cargo ships, and interstate highways, and I cannot imagine the chaos of trying to screen all those passengers.

In a classic ethical analysis, this situation calls for weighing the benefits against the harms, and considering the safety and welfare of a large number of travelers versus the inconvenience of some.

What do you think?


Tags: airport screening

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