Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Enough already

The US is too damn paranoid with air security. Yes, something had to be done after 9/11. Getting ones knickers in a knot about nail clippers was not that something. Some idiot tries to light his shoe on fire, and now I have to take off my shoes every time I pass through security. Testers of the screening system routinely sneak weapons through, but at least we forced a flight with Cat Stevens on it to turn around. Huh?

The latest idiocy coming from Washington concerns our neighbours Canada and Mexico. Currently, any flight landing scheduled to land in the US must have its passenger manifest approved by the US government. Washington wants to extend that restriction to any flight passing over US airspace. Thanks to geography, this affects the vast majority of intra-Canadian flights. If one of the passengers is on the USA's capricious and semi-arbitrary no-fly list, the plane will be refused entry into US airspace. There are serious issues here regarding privacy and sovereignty, and any such demand from the US will be an unreasonable burden on its neighbours.

The US has the right to demand this information if it wants. But all it will do is piss off a few more of our ever-decreasing list of allies for a false sense of increased security. Look, al Qaeda is not going to waste operatives to take a 747 down in some North Dakota cornfield. We've got to stop pissing our pants over every boogeyman we think we see and start identifying and responding to the real threats out there. This is no way for a country that tries to project strength internationally to act.


Blogger Eric said...

I beleive that screeners can ask you to take off your shoes, but do not require you to. Of course, if you set of the metal detector, you probably get one chance to try again, but if it beeps again, they'll waive their magic wand over you. If it goes off near your shoes, then they may insist on X-raying them.

Indeed, the experience of 9/11 has made it much more difficult to hijack an airplane, since now random passangers will no longer cooperate, but rather will spring into action to stop you, even if you try something relatively new like lighting your shoes on fire.

At this point, I would say allowing some subset of the population (e.g., military personal above some rank, police officers with so much experience, trained flight attendants, etc.) to carry lethal weapons on flights would actually increase security, as hijackers would be more likely to have to fight an unknown number of armed individuals. Of course the trick is to make sure that they people you're waiving through with a gun, really are who they say they are. The other problem is estimating how often people will overreact and cause violence when it isn't warranted.

If the flight wants to land in the US, then it seems both legal and reasonable to request such a list in advance. If the flight wants to pass over North Dakoda, then it seems like it's probably legally ok, but kind of silly. Esepcially given that
experience has demonstrated that there's a significant rate of false positives when comparing names to the no-fly list.

In any case, I would think the threat that we'll shoot down your passenger plane if it strays too far off course would be sufficient motivation for Canadaian airlines to be careful in who they let on.

6/02/2005 05:37:00 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Different airports appear to have different shoe rules (which makes me *really* comfortable). Some require everyone to go shoeless, others ask but don't require shoe removal.

The overflight regulations seem rather daffy at first blush. Unfortunately, there are plenty of cities that closely border Canada (i.e. Seattle, Buffalo), so it is hardly the case that all the Canadian airliners are overflying farms in North Dakota. The cost of American military planes taking down a Canadian civilian airliner, though, would be catastrophic, so I can see where a reasonable cost/benefit analysis would make this policy reasonable.

Given that any halfway competent terrorist could get enough explosives on a plane to blow it out of the sky even assuming the most rigorous screeners and screening equipment, I can also see why the government believes that it needs a no-fly list. Unless we want to require body cavity searches and bathroom buddies on aircraft, anyone that really wants to can blow up any plane they'd like.

Personally, I'm comfortable with that. There is some small chance that my flight will be blown up, but that chance is probably not more than the chance that I'll die in a car accident on the way to the airport. In JustinLand, we'd eliminate (or at least allow airlines to opt out of) all security measures-- no metal detectors, no X-ray machines, nothing. Competent terrorists will get through and blow up planes. Incompetent terrorists (the vast majority) will try to blow up their shoe and other passengers will sit on them.

6/02/2005 10:04:00 AM  
Blogger acg said...

By airport? The security rules seem to vary by screener! Some aiport security lines have signs or videos playing to tell people what to do (take off your coat/shoes and put them in a bin, etc.), but some of them just let everyone guess. Surely signs aren't that expensive? Why don't they all have signs?
I once saw one screener who had to scan people with one of those wands, but the sensitivity was turned up too high, so it beeped everytime it was near the floor (detecting the rebar in the floor). He knew what the problem was, but was still required to scan people even though everyone knew it was sort of pointless. I guess I'm trying to say that confiscating safety scissors and nail clippers from people seems like a waste of time and money. Isn't air cargo more likely to be a problem? Why don't they spend more time inspecting some of that? Because there's too much of it?

6/05/2005 12:53:00 PM  

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