Tag Archives: Security Theater

Regulation of the Day 210: Transgendered Air Travelers

Canada is cracking down on the latest terrorist threat to innocent people everywhere: transgendered people. A July 2011 provision added to the Canadian Aeronautics Act’s Identity Screening Regulations says, “An air carrier shall not transport a passenger… who does not appear to be of the gender indicated on the identification he or she presents.”

Suppose someone was born female but lives life as a male. If his valid government-issued photo ID still identifies him as female, he may not board an airplane. It can take years of filling out forms and enduring hearings to convince courts to legally recognize that someone has crossed genders, as the economist Deirdre McCloskey (formerly Donald) movingly writes in her autobiography, Crossing. The result is a de facto ban on flying for most transgendered Canadians.

Dennis Lebel is Canada’s Transportation Minister. He supports the ban. He believes it increases passenger safety.

It doesn’t, actually. Here’s why. A passenger is a threat if he carries weapons or explosives on board. If he doesn’t, he’s not. This is true whether or not his appearance matches his ID, or whether it says “M” or “F.” This is true even if the passenger uses a fake ID, or none at all. Can this person bring down a plane? That is the question.

In other words, showing ID has precisely nothing to do with passenger safety. It’s all for show. The point is if you have weapons and explosives or not.

Lebel and the Canadian security screeners who work for him should keep this in mind. The nasty little provision may or may not be specifically targeted at gender crossers. But in practice it is discrimination, and it does not make air travelers any safer. If anything, by distracting screeners from searching for weapons and explosives, it makes passengers a little less safe. This is bad policy all around. It should be repealed immediately.

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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.

Regulation of the Day 200: Flying Food

Millions of Americans are taking to the skies to spend time with their families over Thanksgiving. Many of them will be carrying leftovers on their return trips. Fortunately, the TSA is fully prepared to defend the airways against terrorist turkeys and rogue desserts. Here is a list of food and other holiday-themed items that run afoul of the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule:

Cranberry sauce, creamy dips and spreads (cheeses, peanut butter, etc.), gift baskets with food items (salsa, jams and salad dressings), gravy, jams, jellies, maple syrup, oils and vinegars, salad dressing, salsa, sauces, soups, wine, liquor and beer.

That means you’ll have to put them in checked baggage if you have a decent amount. They are far too dangerous to bring on the plane in a carry-on.

There are also specific guidelines for pies and cakes:

Note: You can bring pies and cakes through the security checkpoint, but please be advised that they are subject to additional screening.

I feel safer already.

TSA Gropes 6-Year Old Girl

Sometimes people wonder why I favor abolishing the TSA outright and putting airlines in charge of their own security. One reason is incentives. If airlines don’t keep people safe, they go out of business. That’s a powerful incentive to have high standards.

The TSA’s incentives aren’t geared towards performance — and it shows. Instead, its incentives are geared toward growing its budget and expanding its mission.

That’s the primary intellectual argument. But some reasons for getting rid of the TSA are more visceral. This video of a TSA agent groping a 6-year old girl shows one of them.

Bagels Are a Threat to Aviation Security

A college professor flying to Washington, D.C. was forcibly removed from a US Airways flight after passengers reported that he put a suspicious package in an overhead bin.

What was inside? “[K]eys, a bagel with cream cheese and a hat.”

I Usually Avoid Puerile Humor on this Blog, but…

… this one was too good not to share.

Original version here.

Where Are the TSA’s Full-Body Scanners?

Here is the TSA’s list of airports that use full-body scanners. Worth a look before your next flight.