Random ideas & airport security

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I have a habit of buying random magazines on the basis that I might learn something new (and to avoid getting trapped in routine). Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Anyway, I just bought the March edition of GQ magazine.

Nothing much of interest, except for a quote in the foreword that caught my eye:
“The main reason airport security is so bad is that it tries to find things instead of people who might carry them.”

The piece goes on to say that airport security is essentially a performance to reassure passengers and that it’s “security theatre as opposed to security reality.” I’d partly agree with that and also the observation that because security screening as a job is boring: “sloppiness is inevitable”.

Is the only worthwhile security change since 9/11 is the introduction of locked blast-proof cockpit doors? That’s quite a call. Moreover, people do look for people. If you’ve ever flown with El Al (I have) psychological observation techniques are used to good effect, although whether this enhances the customer experience is another matter.

In the US at least there are malicious intent detectors too. These look at the people not just what they might be carrying. There are some fairly sophisticated algorithms out there too that can tell whether someone is about to jump in front of a train or do something you shouldn’t on a plane. Less said about these the better. I’m fairly sure MI5 and MI6 are fairly focused on persons of interest too.

The foreword ends with the thought that we should keep things in perspective. I’d agree. You are more likely to be injured or killed climbing a ladder than getting on an aircraft. Second, what about the security surrounding buses, trains and even hotels? There isn’t much if any. I was at a 5-Star London hotel earlier this week and my bag was scanned and I was asked to open my jacket, but this wouldn’t be difficult to evade.

The best thought in the article, I thought, was the idea that terrorists dislike unpredictability. Perhaps security should therefore be a surprise. More of a spectrum where you never know quite what you’re going to get. Relaxed one minute, rigorous the next. This would also make the job of screening less dull. I think airports, or anywhere else for that matter, should also plug into the wisdom of crowds more. There are posters here and there asking people to report suspicious behaviour, but couldn’t this be made a bit more open and intelligent using social media perhaps?

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