Alex Deane: Demolish the myth that safety, in and of itself, is an absolute good

Share
Related Topics

In arguing against airport body scanners, I've been met with variations on an increasingly prevalent fallacy: "if it makes us a little safer, it's worth it"; "if it saves one life, stops one crime..." What a specious argument that is. It would "save one child" to ban the car, but we don't, because it would be disproportionate and we have to get on with normal life, even if we incur a slightly higher element of risk in doing so. Safety, in and of itself, is not an absolute good.

Society would be a lot safer if we had a night curfew, or banned alcohol, or were forced to wear elbow and knee pads. We don't encourage people to take wild risks, but we don't make (many) liberty-reducing and disproportionate motor laws, either. We should react to the threat of terrorism in the same way.

It's peculiar, the hoops we've obediently jumped through since 9/11. Belts off, jackets off, shoes off, no liquids, no gels, hop on one leg, bear the officiousness of the power-happy bureaucrat with good humour. And now, expose yourself at the airport in order to fly, even though there are real questions about whether the scanners work. And perversely, given the safety first agenda, these £100,000 machines may be dangerous. The Inter-Agency Committee on Radiation Safety (which includes the European Commission, the IAEA, and the WHO) says passengers should be made aware of the health risks of airport body screenings; that governments must explain any decision to expose the public to higher levels of cancer-causing radiation; and that pregnant women and children should not be subject to scanning – authoritative guidance the government ignores.

People are understandably afraid of terrorism. But we didn't allow the IRA to change our way of life to anything like the same degree. Jettisoning liberty in the face of what is objectively a much smaller risk is both wrong and entirely disproportionate – an understandable but foolish overreaction from a government desperate to be seen to be doing something. President Obama said that systemic failures in sharing information already held by the security services allowed the "Christmas Bomber" to get on the Detroit flight. It's not some new, magic solution that's needed; just competent use of the current ones.

Alex Deane is director of Big Brother Watch www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd end the war on drugs

Patrick Hennessey
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month  

General Election 2015: Politics is the messy art of compromise, unpopular as it may be

David Blunkett
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power