First, here’s an opinion piece by Patrick Smith at the NYT’s “Jet Lagged” weblog, pointing out a lot of the problems with airport security procedures.
At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away.
We are not fighting materials, we are fighting the imagination and cleverness of the would-be saboteur.
If you’ve read that and gotten your blood pressure up, you won’t be doing your cardiovascular system any favors by reading this article by the always-excellent Bruce Schneier about a study (well, a meta-study, really) by the Harvard School of Public Health that went looking for evidence of the effectiveness of TSA screening procedures.
I’m going to disagree with Schneier on one point: he summarizes the study as
Surprising nobody, a new study concludes that airport security isn’t helping
From the articles he links to, I’d say it’d be more fair to say “Airport security procedures are costing us a lot, and we don’t even know whether they’re doing any good.”
But he’s right when he says:
The goal isn’t to confiscate prohibited items. The goal is to prevent terrorism on airplanes. When the TSA confiscates millions of lighters from innocent people, that’s a security failure. The TSA is reacting to non-threats. The TSA is reacting to false alarms. Now you can argue that this level of failures is necessary to make people safer, but it’s certainly not evidence that people are safer.
(Update: Punkwalrus imagines the future of air travel, in grainy black and white, with cheesy upbeat music.)