Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Security theater

The most recent Crypto-Gram linked to a conversation between Bruce Schneier and Bruce Sterling. It's a lot of rehash of ideas I've seen Schneier discuss before. If you haven't been privy to the previous hashings, this rehash may be interesting. My favorite quote: "Pigs kill more people annually than sharks." This is the kind of thing I had in mind when compared West Nile virus to driving.

One thing mentioned is "security theater." Security theater is when something is done to give the appearance of security even though it does not improve security. With that in mind, I want to talk about my last trip to California.

On my way back to Chicago, I went through security at LAX. After taking off my shoes and belt and emptying my pockets into the ravenous X-ray conveyor belt, they decided to look in my carry-on bag. I had some candle holders in there, and I guess they looked odd on the screen.

After rooting in the bag a little, the guy found the boxes the things were packed in. He guessed they were wine glasses, and I agreed with him. They didn't even check what they really were! Not only could they have been something else, they didn't even make me come up with my own lie--it was supplied for me.

Witnessing my hesitant response (I couldn't remember what they really were), the other security guy says, "sounds like you didn't pack them." I told them my wife had packed them.

Satisfied, they left me to put my personal belongings back in their places. They left me with two of the metal detector wands they use. I looked around. The wands (with my bag) were behind a small shield, plenty large enough to keep anyone from seeing what I was doing with the stuff on the table (i.e., the wands). Behind me were some other
security folk who could have seen what I was doing, but their attention was elsewhere.

Would anyone notice if I sabotaged one of these things?

I left them alone. I'm sure if I'd taken too long to "replace my pocket items," there would have been suspicion, but a prepared attacker could probably muddle up the security wands in the time allowed. If I'd been a prankster I could have superglued them to the table easily.

This reminds me of when I took a studio tour at NBC a while back. They had a walk-through metal detector. The trouble is, when it went off, the guy would use the wand to identify what he thought was the culprit without making sure in any systematic way. For example, a woman walked through, and it beeped. He said, "it's probably your belt buckle." He held the wand to her belt, and it beeped. He was satisfied, but she could have had a gun somewhere.

What do I expect from a studio, though? They buy make-up by the truckload. If it looks like security, that's all that matters. Security is a feeling, after all, and feelings derive from perception more than reality.
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