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The Wrath
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Well, I think that making sure no enemies enter the country is a legitimate function of the government. However, they would have to prove that their method of doing this is actually the best one for the situation. If it is necessary for national security purposes to do something, then they government should do it. But they have to demonstrate that it actually is the best option. Right now their reaction seems to be very concrete-bound, while they are ignoring the real solution (getting rid of the states and cultures that sponsor the terrorists).

So if, like what is happening now, the government takes measures that are actually not helping, then no, they do not have the right to do so. Come to think of it, I can't think of any situations where it would do any good to violate someone's rights in order to protect them. That seems rather self-contradictory.

I think at the very least the government should be condemned for going after the wrong things here.

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I can't accept the argument that we should just kill them all and not worry about airline security. Yes, we should kill as many as possible, but it will never be possible to kill every nut who wants to blow up an airplane. Thus, there will always have to be a modicum of security measures being taken.

And keep in mind, I'm not just talking about foreigners entering the United States. What if some Tim McVeigh-type boards a plane in Oklahoma? No foreign travel involved there, but still a threat that proper security could neutralize.

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But this current trend of banning anything that is used in terrorist attacks doesn't help much at all. They will just figure out some new thing to blow up an airplane that hasn't been used before. If a certain measure does nothing to help the situation then it shouldn't be put into action by the government. I think it's fair to say that the measures will make life a little more difficult for terrorists, but as long as the terrorists have their cultural and material backing it won't really solve the problem.

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So, to what extent do you support airline security?

It should be left up to the airline companies to decide (and consequently the consumer). Then as consumers we could choose what degree of screening/security we would tolerate. Some airlines might subject you to a full body cavity search (but you'd be safe) others may just scan bags and use metal detectors.

Edited by Drew1776
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I agree with Drew, as long as they do not objectively demonstrate that there is no other (effective) way of defending the country than to make these things obligatory it should be left to the individual companies involved to set the policies.

In a way, isn't this situation similar to the whole government regulation of pharmaceutical companies? There, too, you have the government (through the FDA) telling the companies what is and is not safe for the people, and the violation of rights involved is quite clear in this case.

Seeing how a bad drug can cause practically the same amount of death and misery as a terrorist attack (if enough people use the thing and the effects are not apparent at first) and we leave that to free market working, why not airline security? The only difference I see is that in this case the police/army would be involved when something goes wrong rather than the courts, but I do not think that changes what is allowed to the government to properly do in such a case.

Sure, the moment an objective threat is identified it should be neutralised as quickly as possible, but it is just as wrong to regard all airline travellers as guilty until proved innocent as it is wrong to regard pharmaceutical companies as guilty until proved innocent.

Edited by Maarten
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The difference is that, if you want to buy an unsafe drug, you endanger only your own life. If an airline company doesn't screen its passengers, the lives of 3,000 uninvolved people in New York and Washington D.C. are at stake. Ideally, airlines would provide their own security, but all it takes is one airline that decides it wants an economic advantage by having no passenger screening, and we've got another large-scale terrorist attack on our hands.

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But in a free market it would also only take one company which forgoes extensive testing to put on the market a faulty drug that kills a lot of people. Sure, the people involved choose to buy the drug, but when the effects are not readily apparent it can be very difficult for them to tell that it is actually dangerous.

Isn't this pretty much the same argument used to defend the existence of the FDA?

I realize the situations are not exactly the same, but I think the differences are not essential here.

Edited by Maarten
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The difference is that, if you want to buy an unsafe drug, you endanger only your own life. If an airline company doesn't screen its passengers, the lives of 3,000 uninvolved people in New York and Washington D.C. are at stake. Ideally, airlines would provide their own security, but all it takes is one airline that decides it wants an economic advantage by having no passenger screening, and we've got another large-scale terrorist attack on our hands.

Moose, I think an airline firm in a free market economy would have obvious incentives to protect its assets from destruction by thugs -- and I'm sure that customers would be more than willing to pay the extra cost that comes with the increased security in order to protect their lives. And if they're not, that just goes to show the importance which they attach to their respectives lives ... about which there is pretty little others can do.

I really don't see how a company that practices routine insecurity can thrive in a free market: if they refuse to screen their passengers, the cost they had hoped to avoid would just be transferred toward their insurance bills. Airlines companies in a free economy would screen for "terrorists" for the same reason that they check their engines before a flight -- whithout having to be ordered to do so by the government: it's in their self-interest.

What the government should be doing about our present problem is not to enter the business of transportation security and make travelling hell for innocent individuals. Rather, it should be doing what I'm sure has been repeated endlessly on this site: putting an end to the existence of state-sponsors of Islamic Totalitarianism.

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But in a free market it would also only take one company which forgoes extensive testing to put on the market a faulty drug that kills a lot of people. Sure, the people involved choose to buy the drug, but when the effects are not readily apparent it can be very difficult for them to tell that it is actually dangerous.

Isn't this pretty much the same argument used to defend the existence of the FDA?

I realize the situations are not exactly the same, but I think the differences are not essential here.

That is exactly the argument used to try to justify the existence of the FDA. I don't think that the essentials are any different if were talking about death in an airplane or death in a bottle. If an airline or a pharmaceutical company sells you something that kills you, they should be held liable for negligence - civilly or criminally or both.

The reason why the FDA, the TSA, the FAA, or any other regulatory agency exists is because the government is not looking at reality before forming it's positions.

Building and operating airplanes or creating live saving drugs are extremely complicated endeavors. They require large amounts of time, talent, and money to be done right - especially on a large, commercial scale. In order to be successful in these industries, many people have to give up virtually their entire lives. These endeavors consume all of the waking hours of people like engineers and biologists, the life savings of investors, and hang the threat of death over people like pilots. These people don't ask for guarantees from the government, so why should the consumer?

The producer of an inherently dangerous, life and death product or service has as much to lose as the consumer of those products do. I think that's a much better disincentive against irresponsible business practices than making some government bureaucrats angry.

- Grant

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Has anyone else noticed how much more dangerous it has become to fly after Sept. 11, 2001?

There was almost no threat of a plane being destroyed before then, but since, every substance is viewed as a potential threat.

The worst thing that I see about it, is the people's passivity to the infringement of their rights. Not the people who fly, but the airlines themselves.

I recall our local news anchor on the night that liquids were banned: "It's a small price to pay for added security." She'll be saying the same thing when we are required to have video cameras in all houses.

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But this current trend of banning anything that is used in terrorist attacks doesn't help much at all. They will just figure out some new thing to blow up an airplane that hasn't been used before.

And if air travel ever becomes 100% safe due to security measures, the terrorists will just find something else to blow up.

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Well, I think that making sure no enemies enter the country is a legitimate function of the government. However, they would have to prove that their method of doing this is actually the best one for the situation. If it is necessary for national security purposes to do something, then they government should do it. But they have to demonstrate that it actually is the best option. Right now their reaction seems to be very concrete-bound, while they are ignoring the real solution (getting rid of the states and cultures that sponsor the terrorists).

So if, like what is happening now, the government takes measures that are actually not helping, then no, they do not have the right to do so. Come to think of it, I can't think of any situations where it would do any good to violate someone's rights in order to protect them. That seems rather self-contradictory.

I think at the very least the government should be condemned for going after the wrong things here.

The airlines may be private (insofar as they can be, propper up by the government as many of them are), but they operate on public airports and therefore security screening is done on behalf of public safety to protect the airport - not the particular airlines. If you decided to charter a private plane from a private field you would not be subject to these regulations. This is pain, but organization like TSA believe they are an extension of law enforcement - what do you think, are they?

When discussing emergency measures - such as banning liquids on airplanes - the government does NOT have to demonstrate, let alone prove, that they are choosing the best option. Often they don't have time to come up with the best thing, they just need to implement something based on a trade off between effectiveness and cost (to implement, in both time and resources). Considering the amount of beauraucracy in our government we would never make decisions in time if they did. While railing against the government I think it is important to remember that one of government's legitimate functions is to protect the people and the borders. While I am not pleased with the majority of things our government is doing, these most recent regulations are FAR from the first thing I would attack.

I think it a bit premature to say that the government actions (such as banning liquids) is not helping at all - as you suggest. Can you substantiate that claim? Would you rather take the risk that the threat/plot was legitimately designed to use liquids to detonate an explosive device aboard an airplane on such an unsubstantiated claim? I agree that the government is not attacking the root of the problem - but that doesn't change the real and immediate need for a strategy for defense against the immediate threat of attacks on aircraft - and if that means no liquids then travellers will learn to deal with it. The greater frustration being that there is no end in sight for these restrictions, since the government doesn't seem prepared to attack the heart of the matter.

The airlines are bankrupt, hobbled by regulation, and it SUCKS! I'm not rooting for our government here, but given the current constraints (including the fact that the airlines don't fundamental seem to understand that they need to defend their right to 'make a profit' - if they still know what that means) I don't think things could come to pass in any other way. Individual airlines have the ability to enforce regulations in addition to those set down by various government organizations - limiting carry ons, carrying out their own searches, etc. "But why should they, when they know the goverment will foot the bill?" Sadly, I think this is how they think.

Edited by Elle
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The airlines may be private (insofar as they can be, propper up by the government as many of them are), but they operate on public airports and therefore security screening is done on behalf of public safety to protect the airport - not the particular airlines. If you decided to charter a private plane from a private field you would not be subject to these regulations. This is pain, but organization like TSA believe they are an extension of law enforcement - what do you think, are they?

Good post Elle. I would just like to add to this by re-emphasizing that if hijacked, a large passenger jet can be used as a devastating weapon. Airplanes that are not sufficiently protected pose a great threat to a large segment of the domestic population in addition to the passengers on the plane and the civilians at the airport. Moose mentioned this. Even in a quasi-ideal capitalist society I would see justification for the government to have some oversight to security procedures at various major (cargo and passenger) airlines. If security at any such airline is deemed inadequate, then the government has legitimacy in intervention for the purposes of enforcing national and state security standards.

The fact that an unsecured airplane is potentially a dangerous weapon is probably one of the major reasons why security for boarding an airplane is significantly tighter than boarding a large train, which if unprotected, only poses a threat to the population onboard and not so much the general population. Convoluted and nefarious, supervillain orchestrated machinations that involve a topic secret nuclear cannon in geosynchronous orbit being remotely controlled from a hijacked train (Under Siege 2) are highly improbable.

I believe the same argument for government oversight can be applied to nuclear power plants, any laboratory that houses dangerous pathogens and facilities where weapons of mass destruction are conceived, designed or fabricated.

On another note, if anyone is interested in chartering a private jet on a private airfield, this may be your answer.

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Elle and DarkWaters,

do you see any difference between this particular case and the one I mentioned; namely pharmaceutical companies? I do not think there is an essential difference there, as I tried to explain in one of my earlier posts. If there are not any fundamental differences between the regulation of drug security and the regulation of airline security then consistency would demand you to either regulate both, or regulate neither.

In the case of a plane actually being hijacked, the government can still respond to that retroactively by (in extremer cases) shooting down the plane. You're right in that they should protect innocent people from the harm the airplane could cause, but I don't think that would allow them to treat the whole population as suspect (like they are doing now). They should at least have a reasonable suspicion before searching you; just like I would not want the police to be able to search me or my house when I have done nothing.

Perhaps the only difference I can see is that this might qualify as a state of war, and therefore different rules apply. But from the way the government is doing this I do not get that impression at all.

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do you see any difference between this particular case and the one I mentioned; namely pharmaceutical companies? I do not think there is an essential difference there, as I tried to explain in one of my earlier posts. If there are not any fundamental differences between the regulation of drug security and the regulation of airline security then consistency would demand you to either regulate both, or regulate neither.

The major difference that I see is one of risk. If an airplane is deemed unsafe and is prone to hijacking, the hijackers can use the plane as a weapon and smash it into a heavily populated area. Assuming perfect information, consumers can choose not to provide business for the plane but the people living in cities are at great risk through no choice of their own. The general population, when well informed, cannot obviate this risk.

Now consider a pharmaceutical company that is poorly run and say manufactures a drug that inflicts great harm to any consumer who voluntarily ingests it with high probability. Consumers, given this information, can voluntarily choose not to purchase this drug. The general population, when well informed, can obviate this risk.

In the case of a plane actually being hijacked, the government can still respond to that retroactively by (in extremer cases) shooting down the plane.

Although this is true, as an engineer, I perceive the expected increase in security through some basic oversight to greatly exceed the marginal inconvenience for both consumer and service provider that is created.

Just for clarity, my position is that I see legitimacy for some government oversight in airline security and if necessary (based on perceived vulnerabilities) some government intervention. This is different from taking a position on the present execution of the government's role in airline security.

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