Holiday Travel Travails

Just in time for the holiday travel season, Vanity Fair’s Charles C. Mann took a trip through airport security with security expert Bruce Schneier. Mann used a fake boarding pass that he printed at home with a little bit of Photoshopping and some coaching from Schneier; it worked.

In fact, there are only three security measures that are effective, and they’re all already in place. They are “locking and reinforcing the cockpit doors, so terrorists can’t break in, positive baggage matching”—ensuring that people can’t put luggage on planes, and then not board them —“and teaching the passengers to fight back. The rest is security theater.”

It’s also time to allow passengers to keep their shoes on:

Taking off your shoes is next to useless. “It’s like saying, Last time the terrorists wore red shirts, so now we’re going to ban red shirts,” Schneier says. If the T.S.A. focuses on shoes, terrorists will put their explosives elsewhere. “Focusing on specific threats like shoe bombs or snow-globe bombs simply induces the bad guys to do something else. You end up spending a lot on the screening and you haven’t reduced the total threat.”

Schneier goes on to show, point-by-point, why almost every aspect of TSA’s security apparatus is spectacularly ineffective. Body scanners, behavioral detection officers, air marshals, and all the rest are the kind of big-budget production that doesn’t actually produce much in the way of increased safety. Fortunately, terrorism is rare; we are still safe.

Read the whole thing. And when you’re done, pick up a copy of Schneier’s book, Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World.

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