Fairfield ethics professor says it's fair to expect the TSA to seek reasonable and respectful ways to protect passengers from harm


He believes better training for conducting pat-downs would go a long way

Image: David SchmidtAs the holiday travel season continues at a busy pace, full-body scanning and pat-downs are the new standard at airport security checkpoints. Some travelers find them an invasion of privacy. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says the revamped security procedures are necessary to protect planes in the wake of increased fears of terrorism.

Fairfield University faculty member Dr. David P. Schmidt, an expert in technology and ethics, was asked to weigh the issue of one's right to privacy against the argument that heightened security measures are vital. He is the director of the Program in Applied Ethics in the College of Arts & Sciences and associate professor of Business Ethics at the Charles F. Dolan School of Business.

"In response to the public outcry over intrusive physical screenings at airports, the Transportation Security Administration has announced it will re-examine its screening procedures," said Schmidt. "This will involve a careful assessment of the trade-off between security and privacy. This trade-off is complex, because of our dynamic, changing perspectives on these two values."

"Security is obviously very important, but it is not an absolute value," he continued. "We are willing to accept a certain amount of risk because the price of attaining near-perfect security is too high. In the case of airline security, the issue is fraught with post 9-11 political sensitivities: A catastrophe due to mechanical failure would not carry the same meaning as a catastrophe due to terrorism."

"The need for privacy is profoundly grounded in human psychology, as there is evidence that certain levels and kinds of privacy are needed for psychological well-being," Schmidt observed. "At the same time, human expressions of privacy vary culturally and across generations. Not everyone experiences privacy in the same way."

"For these reasons, there is no simple trade-off to be made between security and privacy. That said, it seems fair to expect the Transportation Security Administration to seek reasonable and respectful ways to implement its strategies to protect passengers from harm. Perhaps better training for doing pat-downs, for example, would go a long way to alleviate traveler anxiety," Schmidt said.

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Media Contact: Meg McCaffrey, (203) 254-4000, ext. 2726, mmccaffrey@fairfield.edu

Posted on November 29, 2010

Vol. 43, No. 131

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