Tuesday, November 23, 2004
Applying Scientific Methodology To Security Screenings
Imagine that the police show up at your house, and insist upon searching your closets. They explain that once a year or so, somewhere in the United States, they catch a murderer hiding in a closet, and thus they have to do closet screenings "just in case". They advise you of safety regulations which may cause them to seize certain items as a result of their search - they'll be taking your wire coathangers, for example. And if you argue, they'll probably search a bit more intensively, maybe also searching your crawlspace and attic.
Obviously, the police aren't on their way to randomly search a closet near you. The "general warrant" which allowed the British authorities to search a neighborhood on generalized suspicion was one of the abuses which led to our constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. And such searching would be regarded, quite correctly, as an extraordinary waste of time and resources.
Except at airports. Perhaps our government can be made to realize that searching people who have no conceivable relation to airborne crime or terrorism is, similarly, a waste of time and resources. Perhaps there are even methods which could be applied to winnow down the list of suspects from "everybody" down to, well, people who might intend harm to their fellow air travelers. But as long as our transporation security agents feel unduly threatened by the likes of Patti LuPone and Cat Stevens, I wouldn't count on it.