Friday, August 17, 2007

Airport Security, Revisited

U.S. airport security astounds me. It represents a combination of excessively intrusive investigation of all passengers, without regard to risk, the chasing of yesterday's perceived dangers, and ineffectual measures apparently meant to convince passengers that we're safe (such as the stultified "three ounce bottle" limit on the (multiple) liquids and gels you can take aboard, or having everybody remove their shoes). Add to that the fact that my tax dollars pay for "express" security lines for first class passengers, and....

Is this sensible or not? For many years, laptop computers were treated as a special security risk requiring removal from your carry-on bags. This was obviously underinclusive in today's era, given the proliferation of portable electronic goods. The TSA has apparently woken up to that fact and, as of a couple of weeks ago, requires separate screening for laptops, full-size video game consoles, full-size DVD players (not the portable ones, which can easily be as big as a laptop computer), video cameras that use video cassettes, and CPAP breathing machines (that's medical equipment - because everybody wants to take their medical equipment out of its carrying case for inspection in a grubby TSA screening area). Apparently they didn't feel it necessary to inform the airlines of these changes, so they in turn could inform their passengers.

So it appears that the response to intercepting zero (0) dangerous devices hidden in portable computers over a period of decades is to expand the list to include other items in which zero (0) dangerous hidden devices have been detected, while continuing to ignore similar devices - this, like the gels and liquids policy, is an ineffectual half-measure. Either all such items pose an enhanced risk requiring special screening, or none do. Does any particular TSA bureaucrat want to lay claim to this brain child?

Here's a nebulous explanation,
The policy recommendation came from a front line security officer who screens passengers every day who observed that game consoles and DVD players are complex devices much like laptop computers. This change brings more uniformity to their policy.
The laptop computer rule was enacted in response to the Lockerbie bombing in 1998. It took almost twenty years for somebody to notice that the policy didn't make sense? And the response was to enact a new policy that doesn't make sense because, even if not actually uniform, it is "more uniform"?

When the TSA was introduced, it was supposed to bring about uniformity in the security screening process. Having recently flown out of Detroit, Minneapolis and Chicago, there were some very significant discrepancies in how security was handled at the three locations. But then, it may be that in addition to forgetting to inform some or all airlines of the new rules, the TSA forgot to uniformly inform its own agents.

I have to say, it was nice to fly back from Canada where another passenger asked security, "Do we have to take our shoes off?" The answer, "Not unless you have steel toes."


  1. "When the TSA was introduced, it was supposed to bring about uniformity in the security screening process . . ."

    For the love of God and man, don't make an issue out of that . . . because the only kind of uniformity you are gonna see is the LCD kind, as in increasing the level of the "least instrusive" security measures to eqalize all of the airports at the same level as the most instrusive airport. That way the "goal" of uniformity can be achieved completely without reference to demonstrable results . . . which is of course why people push for uniformity as a goal . . .


  2. Why, with a cynical attitude like that... I might almost infer that you work for the government. ;-)