Staff Ed: Security should not solely be justified by the possibility of future threats

“If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

This is a common platitude one hears when the topic of increased security measures comes up, usually in regard to either increased public surveillance or stricter policing procedures.

However, this aphorism has dangerous implications with regard to the nature of rights and privacy — but surely there is a reason for this position. People who follow this reasoning generally say by increasing security measures, people will be safe from a possible threat.

This line of thinking is clearly visible when examining the response to 9/11.

Once people realized how Al-Qaeda terrorists got past security, increased measures were introduced into airports nationwide. Along with the creation of these measures came institutions to enforce security.

These institutions may seem normal to people now, but to anyone who had flown pre-9/11, they remember a very different reality in terms of security. The events of 9/11 shifted the mindset of a security culture in America to one of prevention of possible future threats.

The danger of security culture becomes evident in the following thought experiment: 1) Security is justified by preventing a possible future threat (i.e. taking off shoes to prevent sneaking in weapons in airports). 2) However, the possible scenarios in which a threat can form is practically infinite. 3) Therefore, the possible justifications for increased security is infinite.

Security can justifiably become more invasive and intensive. This Orwellian possibility presents not only a danger to privacy but a danger to people.

A group already subject to higher scrutiny and suspicion by security authorities will be most affected by increased security measures. The combined increased attention and security measures will lead to greater perceived infringements of security protocol. This process creates a destructive cycle of increased security and increased punishments for groups deemed suspicious.   

However, what would one do without security in place if there is a danger that is immediately present? The answer is multi-faceted.

Firstly, this is another example of justifying security by highlighting possible future threats — a slippery slope at best.

Second, security ought to be justified by currently knowable threats. When police have suspicions that someone may be doing something illegal, and probable cause is not justified, they gather evidence of a present situation to justify their response.

Thirdly, the question, and the other premises surrounding current security culture seems to imply that terrorists or violent criminals are simply a force of nature. However, this is not the case.

Violent criminals usually form in response to social conditions. They have reasons behind doing what they do.

Perhaps a society that seeks to find why people do the bad things that they do can maintain security by prevention of these people becoming bad in the first place, rather than simply preventing them from doing the bad action.