January 6, 2013


Let your security blanket slip (Oliver Burkeman, 1/04/12, The Guardian)

This coming August, Richard Reid turns 40. Astonishingly, it's now more than 12 years since Reid, presently an inmate of the "supermax" prison in Colorado, tried to detonate a shoe bomb on a flight from Paris to Miami, ushering in the era of compulsory footwear checks at all American airports. For the youngest air travellers, these edgy anti-terror rules (see also, most obviously, the ban on large containers of liquids in hand luggage) are how flying has always been. Yet it's increasingly commonplace to hear specialists arguing that the crackdown hasn't made us any safer. More people have almost certainly died in car crashes since 9/11, as a result of being put off flying by the attacks of that day, than died on 9/11 itself. "We have made air travel an unending nightmare, [creating] a security system that is brittle where it needs to be supple," wrote a regretful Kip Hawley, former head of the much-despised US Transportation Security Administration, a few months ago. Each new ban on a given item, he pointed out, merely "gives terrorists a complete list of what not to use in their next attack".

There are all sorts of political reasons for this mess. But the deeper explanation, the security expert Bruce Schneier argues, is that we confuse the feeling of security with the reality of reducing risk. The "security theatre" of modern airports makes us feel better, without making us more secure. Indeed, it arguably makes us less secure, swallowing up resources that might otherwise be spent on more effective measures, and making airport staff, focused on finding oversized bottles of shower gel, less alert to genuinely suspicious behaviour. "Security is both a feeling and a reality," as Schneier has put it, "and they're not the same."

...it's not even intended to be useful, just to create the impression that something is being done.

Posted by at January 6, 2013 8:56 AM

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