Sunday, July 13, 2008

Airport Security is Kabuki theater

Tam writes a great post about how, while she has always loved flying, she won't anymore because airport security is criminal insane:
I love planes. But I won't go to the airport anymore. Not with the farce that flying has become. Two-hour waits for a ninety-minute flight. Inane security procedures. I'll drive instead, because my car won't grope me or steal stuff from my luggage.
Hey, it's a small price to pay for public safety, right? Kind of like the time the TSA has forced a military honor guard flying with a fallen comrade to strip on the tarmac,

How about this story of the woman, who was forced to publicly remove her nipple rings before going through the metal detectors? A Google search for that turned up stories from The Age (Australia), National Post (Canada), RTE (Ireland), and The International Herald Tribune (World + Dog). I guess George W Bush's policies really are getting us mocked overseas.

I once made the mistake of booking the lowest cost flight to take #2 son to see his grandparents. The round trip turned out to be two one-way tickets on different airlines (Bad Ted! No biscuit!). #2 son had to take off his shoes to get wanded down. 4 years old. At least he could get on the plane, unlike Senator Ted Kennedy.

Jonathan Adler wrote about a 3 year old who was forced to go through the explosive sniffer blower chamber by himself (cue Dr. Evil: Muhahaha!):
Amos Guiora's op-ed on the failings of airport security prompted significant response, here and elsewhere. Among other things, readers debated whether his example of TSA subjecting a three-year-old to the explosive-detecting "blower" was a good example of poor prioritization and a failure to focus on resources on actual threats.
Poor prioritization? Boy howdy.

A Google search for tsa+search+toddler returns over 100,000 hits. At least we're reducing the terrorist threat from Sippy cups and bottled breast milk.

Snark aside, there is a real downside from all this, when the public starts to assume that this is normal and prudent, and starts trying to "help" - like the grandmother who sent her infant grandson through the X-Ray scanner.

Bruce Schneier wrote about the bureaucratic approach to airport security. Surprise! It's not very effective:
Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back. Everything else -- Secure Flight and Trusted Traveler included -- is security theater. We would all be a lot safer if, instead, we implemented enhanced baggage security -- both ensuring that a passenger's bags don't fly unless he does, and explosives screening for all baggage -- as well as background checks and increased screening for airport employees.
So why do they do it? I think it's related to why towns first cut libraries (sorry, Breda) whenever there's a budget cut, or why big city mayors like gun control despite its clear failure (not to mention unconstitutionality):

Actually solving the problem is hard. So look busy. If you can't do something productive, at least do something. The more visible, the better.

Ordinarily I'd be sympathetic. I work in an industry (Internet Security) where we're trying to so something that's hard, maybe unsolvable, and people fall for security theater here, too. As an example, look at the web site of one of the gurus of Internet Security, Marcus Ranum. Except you can't, at least with Firefox. The site is currently blocked by Google's "malware" detection (idiots). Firefox swallows this hook, line, and sinker (idiots). Ignore my advice, and take Internet Explorer and look at dumb idea #6:
There's an important corollary to the "Action is Better Than Inaction" dumb idea, and it's that:

"It is often easier to not do something dumb than it is to do something smart."
So it's hard to be sympathetic when some petty TSA functionary adopts Ready-Fire-Aim as standard policy, to show the rubes that we're from the government and we're here to help. Hey dude, can you pretty please stop doing something dumb?

No? Dang. I guess I'll drive.

Update 7-13-08 18:55: Holy tar-and-feathers, Batman! It seems like there's a web site devoted to tracking stupid TSA abuse. Hat tip to Stupid Security, which is a fun read and worth following if you care about security theater.

UPDATE #2 7-15-08 11:12: Whoo hoo! A Tam-alanche! Thanks, and hope y'all take a look around. My snark's not up to her level, but I try. ;-)

UPDATE #3 7-15-08 21:30: For the lighter side of airport security, you can find XKCD's take via here.

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