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Security and the Economy (again)

January 22, 2010

The whole body scanners issue has once again brought to the fore the question of the relationship of security and the economy (see here, here and here). This is a more complex question than the political economy which argues that security companies benefit, therefore there are economic interests behind every surveillance surge than occurs. Of course, some companies, scanner makers, Rapiscan and L3 in particular in this case, make a lot of money form their patented systems: each one of the 44 L3 Scanners that Canadian airports are installing costs around $250,000 CAN (125,000 Euro), which adds up to a hefty income to L3. And of course there are connections to the revolving door of US Homeland Security governance at least: Michael Chertoff, the former Head of HOmeland Security from 2005-9 was making the case for scanners immediately after the December 25th thighbomber’s failed attempt, yet he neglected to mention his role as consultant to Rapiscan, which was awarded millions of dollars of contracts under his watch.

However, there are other interests here, notably the aviation industry, airlines and airports, not to mention those of travelers. The Toronto Globe and Mail today reports how airlines in Canada are increasingly concerned that already growing security levies from government (to provide security) will only spiral with every new measure introduced. The airlines expect the government to bear the costs. The government has merely said that it will try to ensure that costs passed on are minimised. However someone has to pay, somewhere along the line. If airlines (or their passengers) are not paying, then tax-payers are and it’s debatable whether ultimately, subsidising the security costs of international travelers is really what taxes should be for when times are hard. Of course no government wants this to come down to a ‘security versus the economy’ argument, but that has to be discussed, alongside the still largely unaddressed issues of privacy and other individual and collective liberties.

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