Airport security

Notice how, over the past five years, American airport security has gotten systematically more invasive, more edgy, and more unpleasant? Well, apparently it still hasn’t gotten more effective to go with that. You can still transport as many bombs as you want aboard aircraft, just so long as they aren’t hidden inside your shoe.

(Which, really, shouldn’t surprise anyone. Fake security monitors objects and has lots of procedures; real security monitors people. But that requires extensive training and may involve things like profiling, which are politically unpalatable. Even the best physical security screening of luggage doesn’t really achieve anything, since there are plenty of other places you could smuggle things aboard. [Left as an exercise for the reader — I can think of some really fun ones that they’ll never be able to screen for without causing a riot])

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Published in: on March 20, 2006 at 10:29  Comments (6)  
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6 Comments

  1. I think profiling is useful, but not in the classical sense of the word. If they start profiling for young arab males, fer instance, a terrorist organization can and should start recruiting middle aged polynesian women. (improbable, but you get the idea. Rigid profiling is ridiculously easy to circumvent, in much the same way that having them looking only in shoes for bombs is easy to circumvent, by carrying it in your hat/jockstrap/body cavity of choice.) However, what security is CRAP at is profiling for suspicious behavior, and then dealing with it without panicking. Is the passenger in line agitated, having trouble making eye contact? Maybe he just broke up with his girlfriend, or maybe he’s carrying a bomb he hopes you won’t find. That doesn’t mean you panic and shoot him where he stands, but it DOES mean you politely pull him out of line, and watch for panic escalation behaviors. If he just broke up with his GF, he’s less likely to escalate his panic level than if he’s carrying bombs.
    I think it was Schneier, but it might have been Malcolm Gladwell that pointed out that every stereotype, every profile only hinders the working of intuitions that should be the REAL screening process. Human intuition is ridiculously good at identifying wrong behavior, but only if you don’t cloud it with garbage data about what a terrorist is “supposed” to do or look like.

  2. I think profiling is useful, but not in the classical sense of the word. If they start profiling for young arab males, fer instance, a terrorist organization can and should start recruiting middle aged polynesian women. (improbable, but you get the idea. Rigid profiling is ridiculously easy to circumvent, in much the same way that having them looking only in shoes for bombs is easy to circumvent, by carrying it in your hat/jockstrap/body cavity of choice.) However, what security is CRAP at is profiling for suspicious behavior, and then dealing with it without panicking. Is the passenger in line agitated, having trouble making eye contact? Maybe he just broke up with his girlfriend, or maybe he’s carrying a bomb he hopes you won’t find. That doesn’t mean you panic and shoot him where he stands, but it DOES mean you politely pull him out of line, and watch for panic escalation behaviors. If he just broke up with his GF, he’s less likely to escalate his panic level than if he’s carrying bombs.
    I think it was Schneier, but it might have been Malcolm Gladwell that pointed out that every stereotype, every profile only hinders the working of intuitions that should be the REAL screening process. Human intuition is ridiculously good at identifying wrong behavior, but only if you don’t cloud it with garbage data about what a terrorist is “supposed” to do or look like.

  3. Absolutely. And if you do any “classical profiling,” it needs to be based on up-to-the-minute intelligence information, on the lines of “we have reports that they’re trying to recruit middle-aged Polynesian women in the past few weeks.”

  4. Absolutely. And if you do any “classical profiling,” it needs to be based on up-to-the-minute intelligence information, on the lines of “we have reports that they’re trying to recruit middle-aged Polynesian women in the past few weeks.”

  5. Has there been any doubt over the past five years that the ‘security’ was/is to make a big show of Doing Something, regardless of its efficacy?

  6. Has there been any doubt over the past five years that the ‘security’ was/is to make a big show of Doing Something, regardless of its efficacy?


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