Sense in Airport Security

Bruce Schneier is talking sense again (as always!).

At the moment, airport security will do one of two things when they catch you with something you’re not allowed bring on a plane: a) take it off you and let you go on your way; b) arrest you and charge you with terrorism.

The latter is no problem.  It’s a gun or a knife or an explosive, you should be arrested, questioned and if appropriate, charged.  The deterrent to the terrorist/criminal from trying this is that the chances of being caught are reasonably high, and the risk is huge (i.e. getting caught and going to jail for a long, long time).

The former happens constantly, and is a total waste of time – if the item you’re carrying is so innocuous that they’re not going to arrest you for it, then what’s the point?  If you’re really a terrorist, and have some dastardly plan that somehow uses shapmoo and condiments as a bomb, you’re just going to try again the next day, and the day after that, and the day after that.  Even if screeners are 99% perfect at spotting jars of chutney, they’ll let one slip through on the hundredth go.  As there are no consequences to repeatedly testing the security, there’s no risk involved in attempting your dastardly plot on a daily basis until, eventually, you succeed.  So, no deterrent.

The moral of the story, well, Bruce himself puts it well:

If something is dangerous, treat it as dangerous and treat anyone who tries to bring it on as potentially dangerous. If it’s not dangerous, then stop trying to keep it off airplanes. Trying to have it both ways just distracts the screeners from actually making us safer.


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