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 It should be repealed immediately.


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.

Another TSA Indignity

This picture is its own argument for disbanding the TSA. Better to put security under the charge of people who actually have an incentive to maximize safety and minimize intrusiveness — airports and airlines. The TSA takes the opposite approach, as shown above. Original picture here.

TSA Averts PR Disaster

Yesterday I went to the airport, dreading the choice between a full-body scan or a full-body pat-down. I arrived more than two hours early. I was expecting long lines, large crowds, and a testy atmosphere; neither passengers nor TSA employees seem to enjoy the new security procedures.

After checking in with my airline, I walked down to the dreaded security line, ticket and driver’s license in hand. The line was suprisingly short. DC is a transient city. About 40 percent of the region’s population is originally from somewhere else. That means more people fly out for the holidays than in other areas. But security was a breeze! What was going on?

As it turns out, just for that busy day, the TSA decided to revert back to the old shoes-and-metal-detectors policy at many airports. No scanners. No pat-downs. At least not that day. After I went through the metal detector, put my shoes back on, and found a seat near my gate, I saw on the news that this was happening nationwide.

Not every airport eased up. Some people still had to choose between the two indignities. But the planned opt-out protests seemed to fizzle out, mainly because most people didn’t have to.

The TSA did the right thing. It doesn’t need the scanners. It doesn’t need the pat-downs. Unfortunately, it did the right thing for the wrong reasons.

If scanners and pat-downs really are about safety, TSA would have stuck to its guns. No, they are about security theater. And PR is one of the most important aspects of this theatrical production.

The opt-out protests were a PR disaster waiting to happen. How many John Tyners would be born that day? Better to not even give them the chance. Then reinstate the scanners when popular fury dies down.

It worked. This morning’s headlines are screaming about TSA protests fizzling, or disappointing, and the like. That’s because TSA took away the opportunity for anything to be protested.

Worth noting: even without the scanners and pat-downs, there were no terrorist attacks. This is because terrorism is rare. I look forward to the day when we have an adult security policy that reflects that reality.

Now we shall see if I have to endure the scanner-or-pat-down Hobson’s choice on my return flight.

Some of Us Are More Equal than Others

Don’t like dealing with the TSA’s body scanners or pat-downs? Consider getting into politics. The Associated Press reports:

Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.

Maybe Congress and the President would be more willing to rein in the TSA’s excesses if more of them actually had to endure them.

Apparently TSA head John Pistole goes through the same security that you and I do, for which he deserves praise. Though one does wonder why it hasn’t made him realize the absurdity of modern security theater.