Philip Hensher: Airport security is at the cutting edge of control ... and routine humiliation
The other day, I was flying to Geneva for the weekend. Passing through the first of several potential waves of security at Heathrow airport, I was stopped by a young man with a piece of cotton wool on a stick. "I need to swab your bag, mate," he said. At those words, faced with the expensive misery of travelling and being told to remove shoes and unpack your bags and be groped by security staff, something broke in my soul.
"Mate?" I said, a little sharply. "OK – mate, buddy..." he said, offering an alternative. "Buddy," I said. "Buddy." I may be wrong, but considering the non-optional indignities to which security staff can subject you, I think the least they can do is to speak to you in the same civil way that they are entitled to expect from the public. But this security person had swabbed and groped and ordered so many people to remove their belts and shoes that he thought that it was perfectly all right to call us "mate" and "buddy". And for that reason I do not believe that he is a fit person to be permitted to use a camera to inspect strangers naked.
Not everyone agrees, however. The British government this week confirmed that airport security measures are going to include a camera which can screen individuals through their clothes. The cameras produce a specific image of the passenger's body – certainly enough to indicate very intimate details. There will be no possibility of opting out of this process. Everyone – children, old people, nuns, rich and poor, dignitaries and the helpless – will be obliged to submit their bits to the inspection of some labourer in the security industry, bored and in search of amusement. How could that go wrong?