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Are Americans selectively Hobbesian?

December 6, 2010

In general, Americans value their privacy and prefer a balance of security and safety that slightly favors individual rights over security. This is the case in most liberal democracies

throughout the world. After the the 9/ 11 terrorist attacks however American citizens started to abandon their ideas about individual rights and the importance of safety. They allowed the balance to to shift towards a more Hobbesian ideal, one that favors security over individual freedoms. Congress allowed the passage of the “Patriot Act”. Even though the Patriot Act gave police and anti terrorist agents the power to search American homes without a warrant  or judicial oversight, the Patriot act was looked at very favorably by the majority of the American public. People seemed to think that because they were not terrorists this law couldn’t effect them. This was not the case. In some instances the new laws were abused, and many times, they were not only used for terrorism prevention but to harass Muslim american families and minor offenders.

Recently though, the TSA has upped its security and large minority of Americans are bothered by this. It is thought that this is the case because, rather than only effecting suspected terrorists, the new TSA regulations effect almost airline travelers not just a minority. Many travelers feel that because they have not personally  done anything wrong, that they should be trusted over other passengers. The picture above shows a body scan from a TSA machine. Theses machines, that take scans of people and give a visualization of a person’s uncovered body has been seen as unacceptable by up to 30% of American’s, but is it really that much more invasive than the Patriot Act?  It seems that American’s are more than willing to give away what they perceived as the rights of others for the security of themselves, but not their own. They are fine with the FBI ransacking the home of a suspected terrorist, but not with the TSA taking a scan to make a stripped down image of them , that is frankly, pretty blurry.  Some Americans are letting America become more and more Hobbesian because of their fear of terrorism. They are focusing on their more trivial, personal inconveniences, while happily letting our Government take away basic individual rights.










TSA Scanner Debate Shows Americans Are Selective About Privacy – Susan Milligan (

  1. aubriem permalink
    December 6, 2010 6:14 PM

    I’m glad someone connected this to the Hobbesian ideals because we had actually covered this in discussion one day. It is interesting how people are willing to sacrifice their rights for security, but when it does come down to actually acting with these new rules, people are skeptical. When mentioned that people are easily willing to give away other peoples’ rights, but not necessarily their own, it throws into confusion how Hobbesian America has become. When it’s other’s peoples’ rights being offered up, is this truly still a Hobbesian way of acting when wanting security?
    Furthermore, I would like to add to the blog with the idea that when people are eager to allow someone to be checked and their privacy invaded they are meaning those that have the stereotypical look. This “look” of a terrorist is considered discrimination, so it people want to rid themselves of the new TSA scanners because it is no longer a minority of fliers being scanned, then they are being racial. Throwing this idea into the mix shows how discriminatory our country actually is, especially when we were already acting in these ways before the changes. I don’t believe Hobbes was indicating any sort of racial or class discrimination when he believed that the sovereign should control peoples’ freedoms in order to insure security. Of course this could be rebutted because back in Hobbes’ time period there was little diversity.

  2. justinrostker permalink
    December 6, 2010 6:51 PM

    We discussed this topic in my section and the general consensus was that these scans are fine and are infringing on our civil liberties. Many people thought it was necessary and if it means them being safe then there is no problem in the scan. Also, even more people thought it was fine once being told the person who sees the scan is in a different room and can’t even physically see you. I personally don’t find this very Hobbesian. We are not entirely giving up our right of privacy because if someone doesn’t like this new policy then they can just drive and has the right to not fly.

  3. arichnerjr permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:34 PM

    Interesting post. I agree that security has taken more of a priority since 9/11 (maybe justifiably so). On the other hand, individual rights and security can be reconcilable in some instances (such as the 2nd Amendment).

  4. joshuacy permalink
    December 6, 2010 7:46 PM

    These actions are extremely comparable to the Patriot Act, and are similarly deplorable. The Patriot Act only passed because everyone was afraid of being “un-American” after 9/11. I have no idea how these TSA scanners were allowed to be put into action, but if 30% of Americans are NOT okay with it, maybe the TSA should reconsider. Oh, wait, it’s too late. They already used bought a bunch of scanners. No going back now. Happy flying!

  5. Alec Lessner permalink
    December 6, 2010 8:04 PM

    I believe that we as Americans should not allow ourselves to hold double standards when it comes to protective measures. If you want to get on a plane, you’re going to have to do the same things everyone else does, and if you don’t like it, the alternative is a more tedious, less invasive journey. If you have nothing to hide, then there’s no reason for you not to go through the protective processes. As long as security measures are an effective deterrent against terrorism, they should remain in place.

  6. Mycki Kujacznski permalink
    December 6, 2010 9:04 PM

    I agree with what you said in the last paragraph about people being hypocritical about the balance of privacy/safety. Everyone obviously wants to be safe, yet no one wants their privacy invaded. Being a conservative, I’m more for the privacy as opposed to safety, although I think both are important, and I definitely think the TSA scanners are taking it too far. I’m surprised that only 30% of Americans agree.

  7. johnkeller91 permalink
    December 6, 2010 10:14 PM

    I think it is interesting how you related modern security issues to Hobbes. Naturally every one wants to feel safe, yet they immediately become more hesitant if their own individual freedoms may be infringed. It has been commented, and is commonly agreed that the USA PATRIOT Act legislature was passed at a time when the American public was vulnerable to fear after the 9/11 attacks. And although it has been criticized and scrutinized, the bottom line is that these measures are effective at preventing acts of terrorism. These TSA scanners may infringe on individual rights of privacy, but this infrigement really doesn’t directly affect people that much. People have to accept that with commercial flying, one is essentially entering an agreement in which they must sacrifice a small amount of liberty in exchange for increased safety for themselves and fellow passengers. If this cost is too high for some people, I’m sure they will be able to live happy lives grounded.

  8. lrib12 permalink
    December 6, 2010 10:18 PM

    I am in favor of security over privacy in this circumstance; simply, the reward in my eyes out-weigh the risks. Its something that everyone should have to do if the airport security implements it. Im actually happy that 70% of Americans are seemingly accepting of this.

  9. hadohe permalink
    December 6, 2010 10:24 PM

    Essentially, Americans want to “have their cake and eat it too” by stating that there must be a favorable balance of “security and safety.” Prior to 9/11, measures such as full body-scans and random pat-downs were not necessary, but disasters call for heightened protection. It is not like airlines suddenly decided that they need to select people to search just because they think so; there were circumstances that actually called for it. In my opinion, by purchasing the ticket, we all collectively enter into the airline’s “commonwealth”; we agree that our fear of a terrorist attack outweighs the uncomfortableness of a search. Through personal experience, by having an airline staff member roughly look through my belongings after passing through the metal detector, I immediately declared that it was unjust and that I did not look “threatening” enough to be searched in such a way. And then I realized that it was for the greater good of the people, and that personal discretion can not be applied in instances in which people’s lives are at stake. It seems that higher safety means higher security, and lower safety suggests lower security; the two can not be “balanced out.” Sure, our privacy standards will be lowered, but our own self-interests must be forfeited to benefit the good of all.

  10. rhampton27 permalink
    December 6, 2010 10:39 PM

    Although Americans may be uncomfortable with the body scanners at airports, I feel they pose some sort of necessity. Now, regardless of whether or not the security is actually needed or desired by people, I think that the fact that it is applied uniformly to everyone is something we should appreciate. This blog post made the argument that people desire safety at the expense of others. Such was the case after 9/11 when racial-profiling was used to find suspected “terrorists”. In a similar manner, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, thousands of innocent American citizens were locked up in containment camps based on their race, all for the sake of “national security”. I believe that if we are to desire security in our country, we must acquire it through means of equality. The full body scanners are applied to everyone, and therefore provide a reasonable and in-discriminatory means of achieving security.

  11. Meredith Ambinder permalink
    December 6, 2010 10:44 PM

    I agree with the point that Alec makes, which is that one must consider the fact that flying is a choice. Personally, I agree with the majority in that my safety is most important in this case. If these “invasions” of privacy are keeping my plane from being hijacked, I am 100% okay with it. For those who are not okay with it, there is good news: no one is forcing you to fly. I would like to see how those who oppose the body scans would change their minds if an armed terrorist was on their flight because the body scan was not used.

  12. ann900 permalink
    December 6, 2010 10:54 PM

    I feel that in times like these where we are unsure of what other countries are doing and having been recently caught off guard ourselves by a terrorist attack we need to be willing to give up some of our rights in order to protect ourselves and our country. In the past people were able to literally wait outside thee airline gate for their loved one to get off the plane. Now you can’t even get near the food court without having a plane ticket to pass through security. Times changed; security changed; so we need to adapt to this change and allow ourselves to be subjected to whatever is necessary to keep ourselves safe. This should not be a racial matter, everyone should be treated equally because we are all going to be affected the same way.

  13. Samantha Eisler permalink
    December 6, 2010 11:14 PM

    While such a processes definitely has its benefits (i.e. keeping the air a terrorist-free zone), I can understand how many americans may consider this process overly invasive. Essentially, the TSA agent is performing a strip search on the passenger, except they aren’t physically touching them. Especially because they are viewing these essentially naked images in a separate room, whose to say people aren’t being made fun of behind closed doors. While yes, passengers may choose to opt out of the body scanners and get a full body pat down, what then is the point of these scanners? couldn’t the terrorist themselves say they feel uncomfortable by the process and chose to opt out as well?

  14. jldykes permalink
    December 7, 2010 10:45 AM

    It’s completely understandable why many Americans may feel as though the body scanners are an invasion of privacy. Some may refuse the scan and choose a pat down instead, or maybe they forget flying entirely. Why is it that Americans feel the urge to stand up against TSA body scans, but not to having their homes searched without warrant through the “Patriot Act”? In my opinion the patriot act is much more invasive than going through a scanner that shows the outline of your body. It all depends on where Americans draw the line in sacrificing privacy for their own safety. In this instance it seems that Americans are willing to sacrifice privacy up to the point where the privacy of their physical body is invaded.

  15. arimark91 permalink
    December 8, 2010 1:25 AM

    I agree that the new TSA scanners take invasion of privacy to a whole new level, but I also agree that Americans can be very hypocritical when it comes to safety. Unlike Hobbes, we choose safety over freedom when it benefits us, instead of always choosing safety over freedom. However, even though we may be annoyed by the new scanners, Hobbes would most likely tell us that they are protecting us and that they should stay in place. It also could be pointed out that people do not have to go through the scanners; there is the alternate choice of a pat down.

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