Thursday, December 31, 2009

Norman Baker and airport body scanners

I am puzzled by some words attributed to Norman Baker in a couple of today's newspapers.

In the Daily Telegraph, for instance, commenting on calls for full body scanners to be installed at British airports, he is quoted as saying:
“Once again the Department for Transport looks flat footed and the price is being paid by hundreds of thousands of people going through our airports."
I am not surprised to see Theresa Villiers junking the Tories' new-found libertarianism at the first prospect of political advantage, but is Norman really in favour of these scanners?

I should have thought that giving private companies and the security forces powers to look at everyone with their clothes off is just the sort of thing a good Liberal like him would be against. If you know more about his line, please let me know.

The last time this blog discussed these scanners it was to report that the authorities had concluded that their use with children would contravene child pornography laws.

Still, it would by just like government to make parents feel nervous about taking pictures of their own children in the bath while granting itself powers to do much as it likes


Nich Starling said...

I disagree.When you buy a ticket for a plane (your own choice) you buy in to the whole process of security checks.

It's like moaning that it is illiberal to expect people to speak a foreign language when they go abroad.

Lavengro said...

Airport security is utterly stupid and exists for no other reason than to keep passengers docile and submissive, and to show who really runs the airport. It is intelligence, not absurd regulations on hand baggage, that will defeat the terrorists - and that would have stopped this man on Christmas Day if the spooks could tell their collective arses from a hole in the ground.

I have this on my own blog:

Liberal Democrat said...

@Norfolk Blogger

What a bizzare and nonsensical statement?

An argument that simplistic applied to other equally comparable situations would lead to ridiculous conclusions. Which begs the question, what makes air travel so special that makes it worthy of such an approach?

I mean, look at road pricing based on GPS technology in all of our cars. Surely there can be no argument? If you CHOOSE to have a car, then "you buy into the whole process".

What if shops in an effort to combat shop lifting decided they wanted to pat down or inspect the bags of some shoppers at random? Surely there's no argument against that? If you CHOOSE to shop at that store "you buy into their whole process".

Jane said...

I'm currently taking a Transatlantic flight once a year. I'm quite happy with the security checks and would have no objection to a body scan. I don't see the Libertarian argument on this one. The terrorist threat to air flights, particularly those to the USA is known and real, and as we have just seen very active. Saying intelligence should be used instead of checks is not realistic. You need both checks and intelligence. The existing checks have made it difficult to blow up a plane, which is why the latest attempt failed. The terrorist was forced to use a bizarre method of hiding and detonating explosive. If there had been no checks at all, then when the intelligence failed, the plane would have been lost.

The comparison with random searches of customers is not valid. On the one hand you have a minor and quite transitory interference with personal privacy to stop mass murder, and on the other the same interference to stop petty theft. Also, if shops did behave in that way, shoppers would stop using them and they'd go out of business. Shoppers actually have more choice than flyers.

Actually, irrelevant though it is to the discussion, I'm in favour of road pricing. It is a very good way of using the market to control traffic congestion. Under the present system of road taxes, car owners who don't drive much subsidise those who do. I don't see why they should have to go on doing so.

Liberal Democrat said...


I think you've got the wrong end of the stick here.

No-one's objecting to security checks at airports. We all believe strongly anyone who is acting suspiciously or would be more likely to be a threat should be searched before they board a plane. (Such as a young British muslim person paying in cash, with no baggage, and having recently spent a great deal of time in the Yemen)

What the plan is however, is to use these scanners on EVERYONE. So a 90 year old old English gent going boarding a plane with no suspicious activity at all get's visually strip searched like everyone else. People not acting suspiciously and who there is absolutely no reason to suspect would be involved in any wrongdoing get strip searched like everyone else.

This will lead to even longer queues than we currently have, with more paranoia and inconvenience for EVERYONE in order to protect us against attackers who can be targetted more surgically with far less inconvenience and rights violations for the rest of us.

Jane said...

No, I haven't got the wrong end of the stick. I just don't agree. Take a look at your passport; it doesn't give your religious affiliation. What you are saying is really, let's search all the brown and black people, or people with funny names, because they are more likely to be terrorists. Do that and it won't be long before a ninety year old Bosnian with blue eyes, grey hair and a passport in the name of John Smith blows up an airplane.

dreamingspire said...

You all seem to have got the wrong end of this. The clue is that what this would-be bomber did and what was reported by his father, when all put together (as it could have been), should have had him stopped - even paying cash for a high value ticket is a warning flag, but perhaps they do that all the time where he bought it, but that and no luggage on an intercontinental flight...

Proper use of intelligence, plus some use of these scanners, is the route to take. And the risk that a whole body scanner would be used - as long as it is actually used on a significant proportion of travellers - is, I believe, a significant deterrent.

But one report that I heard was of a woman who participated in the trial of one of those new scanners - the report is that she had put her mobile phone inside her bra and the scan didn't find it.

Even so, it is in fact possible that the John Smith character mentioned, acting as a complete loner and not leaving any trace that causes an alert, will do something bad. That's life.

As for Norman Baker: I'm also puzzled by him, at a time when Lord Adonis is trying very hard to create a massive change in policy about transport and at the same time trying to get the DfT earning its living. Norman should be working with an LD person in the Lords to get to grips with Adonis' thinking (sadly, I don't rate Sadiq Khan).

Tristan said...

Aside from the whole security theater aspect and fighting yesterday's battles yet again, has nobody seriously thought about the massive target the ever lengthening security check queues present?

I'm just glad the terrorists are usually rather crap at killing people and are a tiny number of people - otherwise they could easily shut down all passenger airports.

Tristan said...


The terrorist threat is massively over estimated. Terrorist attacks are infrequent occurrences yet we are expected to live in fear and be subjected to intimidating security checks and put up with stupid, arbitrary rules which are there to make it look like something's being done.

Good intelligence is the best way to prevent attacks other than stopping using the military to ensure a market for the over producing corporations (and that's not going to happen).

The terrorists are winning, but not because they're killing people but because the politicians are using them as an excuse to change our lives for the worse (yes, those same politicians who say we mustn't let the terrorists win and change our way of life).