End Airport Security Theater

Unlikely that these scans and checks would have stopped the 9/11 disaster. - promoted by Bob_Neer

With time off from work or school, chances are many of you are flying or recently flew this season.

You probably have to take off your shoes, likely go through a full body scanner, forced to leave all your liquids at home or take a checked bag (and pay for it), and either way can’t have your drink when you get to the gates. You may wait a long time in line for security, possibly longer than you expected, worrying about being late for your flight, and then reach the end and have to rapidly take off and unpack a number of things. Some of you accidentally left something in your carry-on bag and then were forced to choose between missing your flight or discarding the item – possibly something useful, or with sentimental meaning, or that cost some money.

All for nothing.

None of these practices contribute in any way whatsoever to anyone’s safety. All they do is increase stress, delay, cost, and the risk of theft (when your expensive stuff is waiting in a tray at the end and you’re still going through the scanners). We are literally spending large amounts of money just to make our lives worse, with no benefit to balance it. Just to waste our time and destroy some of our possessions and make travel stressful and less pleasant.

Why? Because our political leaders are afraid of us. They fear that not only do we demand this stuff, but that if anything bad happens, they might be blamed for not having done enough. Many of them know this security theater at airports is harmful, but they’re afraid that we don’t know it, and they’ll be punished if they try to change it.

Show them that may not be true. When it’s still fresh in your mind, after you’ve just flown somewhere or returned home. Call them and ask them to end it.

You can look up your US Senators and Representative’s phone numbers on lots of sites, such as this directory.


7 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Now coming to train station near you

    I noticed, while waiting for family to arrive at South Station on Sunday, that AMTRAK now runs an similarly useless and intrusive security video, over and over. It almost makes me wish for advertising instead.

    The entire point of traveling by rail, for many or even most passengers, is to avoid the stress and anxiety of the air travel. This video left me with the distinct impression that the Amtrak security folks are envious of the “excitement” that their colleagues in air travel enjoy — at the expense of every traveler.

    The truth is that “security” on a train is even less defensible than on an airplane. A train is not going to be hijacked and flown into a building. Bad guys have been blowing up trains for as long as there have been trains — it doesn’t do much, and stopped happening by and large because it doesn’t do much. Even if some crazed terrorist wanted to attack a train, the THOUSANDS OF MILES of un-protected track provide a far easier vector than even bothering to board the train itself.

    Meanwhile, this film serves NO PURPOSE other than to scare people. In a lovely pre-Christmas waiting room, filled with mostly-happy travelers and a child-pleasing model train display, these endlessly-repeated vignettes are worse than the worst attack ads. I can think of few better ways to drive away passengers than to explicitly — and needlessly &#8212 threaten them with ominous words about “disaster”.

    The path to a sense of freedom and safety does not include intentionally-inflicted fear and hysteria.

  2. A good resource...

    is anything by Bruce Schneier. He’s an authentic security expert — he does it for a living, has published extensively, and has a website, a blog, and a monthly on-line “crypto-gram” newsletter. He’s remarkably level-headed and has written cogent, devastating take-downs of the kind of security theater discussed here. Just look him up — he’s easy to find on the web, and really worth reading.

    • Bruce Schneier

      Yup, I’ve been reading him regularly since the 90s when he was known as an expert on cryptography and computer security, since I was a sysadmin :)

      He very gradually expanded first into human factors in computer security (Secrets and Lies, 2000), then applying security concepts to terrorism and crime in the outside world (Beyond Fear, 2003), since since then into behavioral economics, cognitive biases, and more recently sociology and criminology. I recently bought his 2012 book, Liars and Outliers, as an ebook, and plan to read it on my iPad on the plane later this week.

      You may have noticed I used a phrase he coined, “security theater”, in the title of this post :)

  3. Don't play the game

    You didn’t create security theatre, and you aren’t obligated to work hard to minimize the suck.

    1. Don’t rush. Just don’t. Take your time and get it right. Don’t lollygag, but don’t feel like you’ve got to stand like a pelican taking off one shoe while your other hand pops off your jewelry and your hips try to pop your backpack on the belt. When you get to the beginning of the belt, slowly and methodically go through the motions, taking care to put everything easily replicable on the belt.
    2. What didn’t you put on the belt? I put on my class ring, but not my wedding ring. I didn’t put my wallet on the belt either. Sure, it’s “required” but I’ve never not flown because of it, so it isn’t really required now is it. I don’t trust the TSA and I don’t trust other passengers enough to believe that there’s a 100% chance my belongings will be on the other side, so the important ones never get screened.
    3. Don’t go through the imaging system. Opt out. Yeah, it means a male is going to treat you like he’s hemming you a shirt and a pair of pants. But, it means a few things:
    a. your bits and bobs won’t be on a screen for people you can’t even see to gaze.
    b. images of your bits and bobs won’t be saved to be viewed later.
    c. it slows down the system even more.
    4. When they discover your wallet and your ring, they’ll scold you for not putting them in the machine. Politely explain that if they can’t be in your own possession, you w ant them in the hands of a single TSA agent focusing on just their security. Some will be annoyed, others will smile knowingly, others won’t even change their expression. The TSA agent will then use that magic toothbrush to rub your items, put the cotton ball in the machine, and determine that lo and behold your wedding ring and your wallet are not conspiring to hijack the plane.

    Does this method take longer? Yip, for both you (maybe 5 minutes) and for the other passengers (maybe 20 seconds, the difference between rushing and methodically putting your stuff on the belt). But look, it’s not your job to make the airport security theatre faster. It’s your job to make sure that your own belongings, both personal and, ahem, personal, are treated with respect.

    I fly a few times a year, and I’ve been behaving this way for almost 10 years now. I make sure I’m at the airport with sufficient time, and therefore never feel the time pressure in the security line. I encourage all of you to do the same.

  4. Can't believe it

    The billions we have wasted on insuring I can’t bring shampoos on a
    Plane and that every last shoe is checked but my right to own a weapon of mass destruction and mow down a school full of
    kids goes unchecked and is protected. Something is seriously fucked up about that.

    • But it WORKS -- like a Pink Elephant Repellant

      The Pink Elephant Repellant promoter who sells his product at exorbitant prices extols his skeptical prospects to look around and notice the paucity of pink elephants — “See? It WORKS!”

      The corporate interests who own our government and our media similarly tell us that the absence of terrorist casualties indicates that this absurd Kabuki Theater “works”. It bears a striking resemblance to the arguments put forward in support of the corrupt “Indulgences” that motivated the actions of Martin Luther and brought about the Reformation.

      The charade begins to fall apart when we acknowledge that these school massacres are terrorist events, and that our weapons industry continues to profit from arming them. It is no surprise that the response of the NRA is to suggest that we need MORE weapons — this is, after all, how they make their money.

      The US defense industry has a long and venerable tradition of profiting from our national enthusiasm for arming BOTH SIDES of a host of regional conflicts. Innocents — especially women and children — struck down in “tragic” events naturally result in their erstwhile “defenders” taking up arms to “avenge” their murder and protect their survivors, so that they “did not die in vain”.

      So long as we allow this travesty to continue, events such as Sandy Hook will continue to be good for business. I wonder who OUR Martin Luther will be, and what theses he or she will nail to OUR doorway.

      • I couldn't agree more.

        However, bureaucracies live on budgets. They always use all theirs and request more. As long as what passes for security is over-budgeted, there will be organized foolishness.

        But, in the holiday season, click this.

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Tue 28 Mar 7:28 PM