A New Zealand report has drawn attention to the dangers that explosives placed in a terrorist’s rectum pose for air travel. It’s one of those awful ‘what if’ stories that have been going around for just over 8 years. Now someone is claimed to have used one, but not on an aircraft, and not successfully either.

The tabloid reaction to this story might not be funny at all. The idea of a passenger ship being the long haul airliner of the future isn’t going to be universally attractive, much as some of us liked the ocean liners of the mid 20th century. Nor is driving between the major cities of Australia attractive, pending the perfection of some sort of reliable deep tissue scanning and analysis machine that doesn’t actually over dose frequent flyers with exposure to damaging radiation.

Of course it may not get that bad. The serious problem that dogs anti-terrorism measures is that it is possible for those who see them as a growth industry to hype so many terrorist risks that mobility of people and goods by any means is reduced to a near standstill, and it would take a security apparatus so large in terms of enforcement and surveillance to eliminate risk that 10 million Australians would end up supervising the other 10 million’s security at supermarkets, football matches, rock concerts, on public transport and at picnic locations, as well as the infrequent occasions that they used an airline.

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The symptoms of such madness keep cropping up too. Remember the idea that airliner seats could be wired to monitor ‘tell tale’ signs of evil intent. That cabin cameras would run algorithms that allowed real time detection of the facial twitches of the wicked evil wrong doer, and so forth. Even now there are incidents where people are pulled aside at US airports for looking nervous, confused, or being observed to perspire a lot. As it has so far turned out in every case, this is because they are frightened or intimidated, or unfamiliar with the alienating experience of using an American airport.

At some point in time, we are going to have to just get on with life, and its risks, and stop being paralysed at the public policy level by the fears of terrorism.

Any over-reaction to the Saudi Arabia incident might force a much over due reconsideration of security measures to take place, and see governments decide that despite the risks that exist, despite the atrocities that will occur, we will just get on with our lives like our parents and grandparents did in a war that was a thousand times more monstrous in the ‘forties than our lot is in the post 9/11 world.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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