BOGOTA- Many security measures at airports have become counterproductive, managing to improve security only marginally while significantly harming those the measures are ostensibly meant to protect. And government surveillance of citizens has spiraled out of control.
In the war on terrorism, in other words, we have reached a point of diminishing returns.
Consider airport scanners, for example. General knowledge says that the radiation received from them is about equal to the cosmic radiation to which travelers are exposed during one commercial flight. It is not clear whether it is similar to the ultraviolet radiation received without protection at that altitude. The scanners use ionizing X-ray radiation, and the duration of a security check is generally longer than that of a radiography. These devices are not as aggressive as a CT scan, but they are stronger than an X-ray. In the end, these measures put our health at risk and violate privacy in the name of protection.
If the authorities' response to the terrorist attacks on trains and subways in Europe were similar to the paranoid U.S. response, these modes of transportation would have collapsed by now and taken the economy with it, even before the economic crisis hit.
At least in Colombian airports, some of the security protocols seem designed to be contradictory. Security personnel will remove your nail clippers from hand baggage, then the flight crew will serve meals with metal cutlery. And in our day-to-day lives, we have become accustomed to feeling as if we're entering a high-security prison when going to virtually any public or private building, or worse, a university.
And what is the psychological and economic cost for citizens who know that their private or business conversations are being "monitored"? How can we be assured that these private exchanges won't be used as privileged information or be turned against us?
In a column last July, I mentioned the U.S. project to create a center that stores all the information generated from any part of the world. It seems as though, at least according to Edward Snowden, this project is advancing.
From Colombia to Russia
How can we guarantee that in Colombia, for example, the National Police Intelligence operates under different standards? On the one hand, the government requested telecommunications companies to "facilitate" interceptions through a decree issued 10 months ago. On the other, we are only learning about this now.
Another example can be found in the movie The Fourth State, a film based on actual events and directed by Dennis Gansel. It describes how some of the terrorist acts in Russia attributed to the Chechens were in fact executed by dark forces within the secret service. These were later used to justify "anti-terrorist" legislation.
The fear of terrorism inspires an excuse for governments to limit citizen rights and to approve legislation that violates privacy and the presumption of innocence. In the war against terrorism, it seems the citizens are losing and authoritarianism is winning.