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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

June 27, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 59




Sister Rita Larivee Security: the cultivation of fear

By Sister Rita Larivee, SSA, NCR associate publisher

The Associated Press published a story yesterday about the scanning equipment known as "backscatter" being tested by the U.S. government for possible use in airport security. Essentially, the equipment uses a form of x-ray technology to scan individuals for objects of either metal or plaster hidden under clothing. It works very well. The problem, however, is that backscatter technology also reveals just about everything else, leaving very little to the imagination. (I must admit, it made me laugh.)

The chances of this equipment getting wide use is unlikely without considerable modifications, but it speaks to the unsettling situation we find ourselves in since the attack on the World Trade Center. What are we willing to accept to ensure our safety?

I'm certain that many people will see the technology as an invasion of privacy that goes beyond reasonable security measures, while others will dismiss any misgivings as unwarranted if that's what it takes to make us safe.

But there's another issue here needing attention, namely, misplaced fear and its ability to paralyze us into passive acceptance of ideologies that are in need of continual assessment. When do we say "stop" to those who would have us believe that it's for our own good?

Fear knows no boundaries and leaves us vulnerable as if we no longer have the capacity to empower ourselves for determining our own future. Cultivating fear is never good. But that's what I see happening in our society today.

Fear acts as a cancer within our communities and, if left untreated, only gets worst.

I fly a great deal, and I was on one of the first flights allowed in the air after the 9/11 attacks. I know the risks I take each time I fly. I also know the risks I take each time I drive on a superhighway or take a walk in the park. Life is full of risks, and I always want to be part of the process in determining what's in my best interest. I certainly do not want to get victimized twice, once by an attacker and again by those who would force me to accept that I must live in fear.

I find the reality that we are testing the "backscatter" technology to be symptomatic of the deeper problem facing us, an acceptance to live in a culture of fear.

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft encouraged us to go about our lives and to let the professionals worry about security threats. I disagree. Security is a necessary part of our world, but not if it overshadows our responsibility to investigate the truth behind the cause of our fear. We can never abdicate this role and leave it to others to choose what is best.

A culture of fear can be deadly. Not because of potential perpetrators, but because it inhibits our ability to think critically and blinds us from seeing the full meaning of our situation.

The implementation of new security measures is not always a good thing. It keeps us from getting beyond the fear to the cause of that fear. Real security is when we do not need security at all.

Rita Larivee SSA is NCR associate publisher. Her e-mail address is

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