Before September 11, 2001 the words “terrorist” or “terrorism” were used to describe things that happened in far off lands. And while no one was oblivious to the fact there were, and still are, many groups who are actively working towards the demise of the United States, there wasn’t much fear that one group would actually cause so much damage. Watching those buildings crumble sent people into a frenzy of chaos and fear, and they began thinking that these attacks were around every corner.
But it wasn’t just the average American Joe who thought this way. Almost immediately after the attacks on the World Trade Center, major political figures jumped into action to offset fear with a newfound patriotism and feeling of security. New measures were being thrown about to ensure that something like this would never happen again. Looking back, some of these policies were borderline invasive, but at the time it seemed like the right thing to do. The question now is: are they still necessary?
The fear of another attack drove most American citizens to a new level of patriotism, and for a country as proud as the United States is, many didn’t think it was possible. There was a new drive to beat the bad guy and most were on board saying that they would do whatever they needed to so they could protect their land. This willingness to allow the government to do as they pleased caused a major rise in warrantless searches and checking personal documents like emails and telephone records. Before 9-11, that never would have worked.
Major changes happened in the government itself. The Department of Homeland Security was formed as a way to beef up security. The cabinet level department is responsible for monitoring any and all incoming threats, and to dispatch the proper authorities to deal with them. The department itself was a kind of collaboration between previously existing departments like the Coast Guard and Immigration.
The Department of Homeland Security works on a colour-coded threat scale, which did not exist before the twin towers attack. Known as the Homeland Security Advisory System, it acted as a way to communicate with the public any known threats and how they would be dealt with. There were five levels: green (low) to red (severe). While it seemed like a good idea, it gave the illusion that there was some communication about what was going on, when in reality there was never any concrete literature stating what measures would be taken at which levels. This opened it up for manipulation by officials, and generally caused more fear than calm in the citizens of America.
The effects of this system were addressed and it was decided that there could be a better system put into place. On April 27, 2011, almost ten years after the fact, the Homeland Security Advisory System was phased out and replaced by the National Terrorism Advisory System, a two level system that runs on actual proof of a threat. It is better in a sense that there are concrete terms about what happens when the alarm is raised, and works with the media to get out all known information.
But they didn’t just create advisory systems, they took physical measures too. Airport and coast security was beefed up, and things like the No Fly List became important in helping to protect against potential threats. However, there was much controversy over the list in regards to racial profiling and accidental name mix ups. The No Fly List is something that is still in effect today, and is still causing a lot of headaches for travelers.
So do we still need all the protection? It’s hard to tell. There are still many threats out there, and if there are any serious ones the next step in security should stop them, at airports at least. The technology that’s coming out for airport security is probably the most disturbing; a type of x-ray vision that allows security guards to essentially see people naked as they walk through. Although a major invasion of privacy, and something that most people would more than likely not be comfortable with, it still made it through the courts.