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Our Tacit Consent to be Scanned

November 23, 2010

In a country where people supposedly live in constant fear of terrorist attacks, it seems unfitting that the American people would throw up their arms at the thought of another level of security. When evaluating the facts, though, this should not be surprising whatsoever. According to an ABC-Washington post poll conducted, only 30% of American people are worried about terrorism in a commercial aircraft. This complacency explains the fuss being made over the new security measures being taken in airports.

A Time magazine article poses an interesting dilemma,

“If you want to fly, you must subject yourself either to radiation, which triggers a lot of emotional risk-perception alarms all by itself, or to a groping. Never mind the fact that the scanners’ radiation dose is lower than the amount of cosmic radiation you’ll get in just a few minutes on the flight you’re taking. That radiation exposure is voluntary. The exposure in the scanner is required, involuntary — as is the pat down. Imposed risk always feels greater.”

Reading this provoked me to consider John Locke’s concept of tacit consent. By flying to and from the United States, we are in essence consenting to the rules and procedures that come with it. Locke, in his Second Treatise on Government, explains that, “every man, when he at first incorporates himself into a commonwealth, he … submits to the community, those possessions which he has, or shall acquire, that do not already belong to any other government” (2.120).

I think that if Locke were to be here today, he would be in firm support of the body scanners and the pat downs. By going to an American airport and flying on American planes, you submit your property and yourself to the nation. And if this means you sacrifice some of your privacy for the betterment of the nation, so be it. Otherwise, don’t fly.

  1. Jorge Rodriguez-Larrain permalink
    November 23, 2010 3:39 PM

    This was a great blog, it raised an important question and concern, which is if the government has the right to scan us. I do think the government has the right to scan us for the our own protection and security, and this view seems to concur with Locke’s, as , Locke asserts “the great and chief end of men’s uniting into commonwealths and putting themselves under government is the preservation of their property” (Locke, 124).

  2. maqianhu permalink
    November 24, 2010 9:35 PM

    I think because in our current society, we’ve been exposed to too much freedom that we do not expect any less from the government. Since our liberation from the British, we’ve always wanted a government that gives us freedom to do whatever we want and privacy; we do not want to be restricted by the government. The first amendment gives us too much liberty that we always argue that this is a “free country.” However, because of recent dangers, our government has imposed new restrictions to protect us from potential harm. Although this is for our protection, we complain because we feel like we’ve lost our privacy. Our desires are very contradictory; we want both protection and privacy, but the government cannot give us both.

  3. changmc permalink
    November 26, 2010 8:33 PM

    This begs the very same question of whether or not safety and liberty lie at opposite ends of the spectrum. It seems we give up our liberty -privacy in this case- when we allow ourselves to be scanned and patted down to give us safety. We also wonder whether or not the threat of terrorist attacks requires such rules to be enforced by an agency that enforces rules on its society, the TSA. In my opinion we should keep these rules. The concept of tacit consent applies in this case because we enter the rules of the TSA when we agree to fly anywhere. The threat of terrorist attacks is real and devastating as we have seen. If we gain a little awkwardness to make sure we arrive safely to our destination, I think it is worth it.

  4. andrewjclark permalink
    November 27, 2010 6:58 PM

    The pat downs or scan is also voluntary – you don’t have to go to the airport. Additionally, most people go to the airport to fly in a plane, where they are going to get more radiation. A NYTimes Poll just showed that over 70% of Americans are okay with the new security measures. Those folks feel safer and are probably more likely to ride the flying machines because of those scans. This is one instance where a federal security measure is making us more free. And I think Locke would be all for that!

  5. tungyat permalink
    November 28, 2010 1:13 PM

    I agree with my peers above me, that by living in a country you agree to submit to its laws, especially in this case. The risk of another terrorist attack is simply too great and it would benefit everyone else for an individual to simply submit to these security measures for a mere minute.

  6. Samantha Eisler permalink
    November 28, 2010 3:05 PM

    While is unfortunate that we cannot always feel safe in our own country, the fact is we do no live in a perfect world. If there is one thing to learn from the events from 911, it is that no matter what we may think or feel, America is vulnerable. Therefore, if these extra steps have the ability to enhance our safety, then i say they are definitely steps worth taking.

  7. joshuacy permalink
    November 28, 2010 10:29 PM

    Okay, listen, I agree guys. Maybe in “the best” government, we would have to sacrifice a little freedom for security – “the best” government, of course, being one based on the theorists we’ve learned about. But we’re not in that kind of a government. This is the United States. Our Constitution, The Bill of Rights, the First and Fourth Amendments, do NOT give us too many rights; they are the rights our country was founded upon. Unless a formal revision of the Bill of Rights takes place, we retain our rights to the Freedom of Speech, Thought, Action, and Privacy and just because “70% of Americans are okay with security measures” does not mean that the measures are just.

    • greguff permalink
      December 5, 2010 8:55 PM

      I agree with the above comment. It does seem reasonable that we are sacrificing privacy for protection and security. However, everyone is not in accordance that these scanners are for the best of society. Locke as you mentioned states that you need to “submit to your community”, however, the majorities opinion is not just as the above stated and thus should not be implemented. As a country we have taken significant steps to eliminating terrorist attacks, but the scanners were a little much. I am all for security for the nation, but these scanners can have harmful effects on the people as well as cross privacy borders. I believe as a nation we should still take strides too improve our safety, yet I think there are more reasonable and beneficial procedures we can take, so we can eliminate these body scans.

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