Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Airport security - a step too far?

The BBC are running a story about X-Ray type devices which can see through peoples clothes, intended for use in airport security. Apparently "modesty" is an issue. You don't say.

In the same story they talk about a system which will detect strange behaviour (indicating possible terrorist motives, presumably), such as "running or jumping over barriers". You'd kind of hope that the staff would notice that kind of thing really, wouldn't you?

Sorry, this is quite a way OT, but I just can't get over what these people are trying to impose on people (I'm not just talking about this particular news story) in the name of "security".


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I really do think they have gone too far.

Tapiwa
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Maybe you didn't notice, but since 9/11 there haven't been plane hijackings in the Western world.  Whether it's brought about by a sudden wave of warm fuzzy feeling which has overtaken the former terrorists, or by the security measures which you are so quick to place in double quotes, I'll let you decide.

Phoenix
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Yeah, and there hasn't been a single box cutter to make it past airport security and onto an airplane in the last several months.

Oh, wait, there was?  More than one?  Gosh, maybe the new levels of invasive security aren't working after all.


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

There *was* one attempt and several cases of passengers rushing the cockpit. All defeated by the passengers on the aircraft, much like 9/11 would have been if the FAA and AOPA hadn't spent 40 years teaching pilots and passengers not to resist hijackers.

A box cutter isn't a threatening weapon unless you let it scare you.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Philo is correct.  You would not want to hijack a plane these days.  The passengers will beat you to death, even if you swear you just want to go to Cuba. 

With CAPPS II, airlines will pull your credit history, financial and criminal records.  This is done to "score" you as a green (herd like cattle), yellow (cavity searches, bright lights, cattle prods), red (shoot on sight).  This information, along with your travel history is then forwarded to the US government.  Of course, this process may have similar problems with the "secret names" list.  http://www.pbs.org/flashpointsusa/20030715/infocus/topic_01/

For those willing to play the game... "Well, sure but we are safer!  Did you hear of something called 9-11?"  Here are some pretty smart folks at MIT telling you why this is less safe: http://www.swiss.ai.mit.edu/6805/student-papers/spring02-papers/caps.htm  (blame Joel for killing one-click links)

To double punish you in the US, a check of your credit report, is a negative.  The belief being that multiple checks means your are planning to borrow.  In this case, frequent fliers get to have their credit screwed around with.

And finally, because you have a business arrangement with the airline (you bought a ticket), they can share all that information with their business partners.  How long until every marketing firm is going to partner with the airlines?

MSHack
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Hopefully terrorists won't think to use fake identities, because that would invalidate all those millions spent on CAPPS II.

Rick
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

You know, the old fashioned hijackers, who used to hijack an airliner and have it take them to Havana as a political statement, are probably pretty pissed at Bin Laden for terminating their methods, as it depends upon docile passengers.

And btw, not all credit checks score negatively against your credit.  I work in the mortgage biz, and have extensive experience w/ credit reports.  there are different types of credit checks.  The one where you're applying for credit may reduce your credit score (I say may because other factors are involved), but other types, such as credit card companies doing periodic checks to set your rate (yes, they do this, so if you're delinquent on your MasterCard, expect your Visa rate to go up), do not affect your credit score.

GML
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

>>To double punish you in the US, a check of your credit report, is a negative.  The belief being that multiple checks means your are planning to borrow.

Not in this case. Credit checks are tagged with the reason for the check - multiple checks due to loan applications are a negative, multiple checks by the marketing departments of credit card companies (for direct mail campaigns) aren't, and neither are credit checks for background checks (including these).

(my family includes plenty of bankers [and banking regulators] who talk about this kind of stuff all the time)

RocketJeff
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Interesting article.

"Given this tremendous volume in traffic [639 million annually], unparalleled by any other nation, time-consuming security screening of every passenger is unfeasible. Since the number of security personnel available in airports is resource constrained, it would simply take too long to search everyone as meticulously as airports are able to in some other countries, such as Israel. While Americans love to fly, they also hate to wait."

We also hate to die.  I find this assumption, that checking every passenger is unfeasible, at the base of several arguments for different types of random checks, racial profiling, intelligent systems, etc.  And I think it's bunk.  Yes, everyone hates waiting.  Yes, such a system would slow things down.  But adopting the everyone-a-threat model that El Al uses will solve a LOT of the problems that any other random or profile targeted searches have inherently.

van pelt
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Well in the U.S. we value civil liberties too much to adopt the "everyone a threat" model, so it may work in Europe where they're used to kings and queens and dictators, but not here.

Besides, everyone rushes to build up airport security, but the terrorists just move to cruise ships. Or trains. Or tanker trucks. Or car bombs. Or anthrax dumped out of a rented Cessna. So what do you want to do, assume everyone's a suspect until proven otherwise? Pre-emptively imprison people if they don't pass a "background check?"

Rick
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

We don't hate to die.  If we did we would not drive to airports, because the risk of dieing far exceeds the risk of flying.

We hate to wait, because it is useless.  The criteria for a successful system should be "would it have stopped 9-11?".  If not, then the system is of no value. 

What we have is a system that makes Grandma "feel" safe, when she is not.  At the same time, it punishes us who have to fly regularly, with zero ROI.  I used to fly out of my local airport, by arriving an hour before my flight.  Today, it takes that long to get through security.

--- Corrections --
- Thanks to the clarification on credit checks.  Hopefully, they will do them correctly
- It appears the active links are back  -- Someone is listening....

MSHack
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"So what do you want to do, assume everyone's a suspect until proven otherwise? "

Yes.

To successfully combat terrorism, the United States will have to become a couter-terrorist state - like example is Israel.

Proklet
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

And then the terrorists will have won.

Chris Tavares
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

The founding fathers just rolled over.

innocent until proven guilty
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Why not return to a system in which the airlines pay for security, i.e., the cost of making your person safe is priced into the ticket. The market would let you decide how much you value your safety. Airline traffic would probably decline steeply, as well.

Ah, but what about hijacked planes flown into buildings, you say? Well, I'd say that the Patriot missile system was originally designed to shoot down aircraft. It did just that to a British Tornado at the beginning of the latest conflict. Ruthless, yes, but a hell of a lot better than taxing everyone so that a subset can get a cheaper airline fare.
Air travel as we knew it is dead already. Sometime in the not-so-distant future, someone will sneak a man-portable SAM into the US, and shoot down an airliner. That's merely a prediction, not a credible threat. No need for a cavity search here, thanks.

If the federal government wants to spend money on high-speed inter-city transport, I'd say "Spend it on new railways".

Rob VH
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I say hand everyone boarding a plane a cattle prod. Let them all take on their nail clippers and what have you, but any potential hijacker would have to face a couple of hundred irate passengers all wanting to do a number 6 on him with their cattle prods.

Tapiwa
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

> Hopefully terrorists won't think to use fake identities

Well, seriously! If I recall correctly, all of the hijackers used their real names and real identity documents -- even the two of them for which there was an existing 'do not allow this man to board an airplane' alert out.

Not one of these assaults on our civil liberties would have stopped 911. The cockpit doors and the angry passengers on the other hand, ARE effective, and do not infringe on anyone's privacy or freedom.

Seriously, if some al qaeda dude wants to commandeer an airplane or sneak some nuclear materials on board, there's nothing in these new regulations that will stop them from doing so.

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

BTW, how can CAPPS II even work?

640 million entries a year. In the two years since 9/10, we've had 20 terrorists (19 on 9/11 and the shoe bomber).

20 positives, 1,279,999,980 negatives. What, exactly, constitutes "high risk"? (other than having a commercial pilot's license with no landing training)

I honestly think it's a load of sound and fury, signifying nothing (with respect to security)

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

People are so irrational about security.

Who cares if they have an 'x-ray' which can see through your clothes--that's a temporary invasion of privacy, and most people look mostly the same anyway.

But making people wait for an hour has no benefit (people regularly sneak/accidentally slip weapons through, and can you tell me the weapons value of a nail clipper), and has an extremely high economic cost.

And the whole credit check/profiling thing is an extrememe invasion of people's privacy, gets recorded, and directly against parts of the bill of rights.

Real measures--'empowering' passengers (done, pasengers are no longer passive), protecting pilots (cockpit doors--either armed or open, but not with flimsy closed doors), they have real security effects.

mb
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

>>People are so irrational about security.

No doubt - just try going to work in the Sears Tower anymore. Everyone has to go through metal detectors and bags are searched - this is in addition to having to use an ID card in a card reader to actually get to an elevator...

Does this actually make the Sears Tower more secure? I doubt it - there are still too many ways to do 'bad things' while inside.

Also, unless all packages are opened by security, a simple FedEx shipment is a large 'security' hole.

And, of course, none of this does anything about people who want to ram a plane into the building...

RocketJeff
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Phoenix, out of curiosity, what was the last airline hijack in the western world *before* 9/11?  I don't keep up with these things, but I'm guessing there is a very good chance there hadn't been one in the two years preceding 9/11.  Which means your argument that "there hasn't been one since 9/11" is total bunk.

van pelt, yes people hate to die.  But people also understand that the chance of them dying is very small.  A guaranteed inconvenient wait will not be acceptable vs the very small chance of dying for most people.  Would you accept an hour long wait every time you got in your car to drive somewhere?  After all, driving is more dangerous than flying.

Mike McNertney
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

> Yes.
>
> To successfully combat terrorism, the United States will have  > to become a couter-terrorist state - like example is Israel.

If that happens, I'm moving to Canada once and for all.  Americans should not stand for this.  What the neo-cons do not understand is that their very policies breed terrorism and hatred.

I joined the ACLU for the first time this year, because I'm getting pretty damned pissed about policies such as the patriot act.

It is not big brother's buisness that I fly to Buffalo three times to visit my family.  These policies are doing nothing to stop terrorism and everything to take away our civil liberties.

Trust.  That's makes the US great.  Do you get it?  With out trust we've got nothing.  Nada, nothing, zippo.  Ok we have something.  One hell of a national debt.  We might as well roll over and die like every other empire...

Ah hem.  I got that off my chest.

christopher baus (www.baus.net)
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"Would you accept an hour long wait every time you got in your car to drive somewhere?"

Different set of circumstances.  I'm not driving 30,000 feet in the air for over an hour each time, with 300 other people, who are all *probably* as sane and happy as you or I.  If I were, however, damn right I'd wait an hour before driving.

"After all, driving is more dangerous than flying."

Mike, I don't want to seem like I'm picking on you, but I've heard this before, and I've yet to learn what statistical chicanery inspired this claim and from whence it came, but I think *this* is bunk too.  I bet it came from an "accidents per miles traveled" statistic, rather than an "accidents per number of trips" statistic.

As far as the "infringing upon our freedoms" claim goes, look, there are circumstances and locales where some restrictions can and should apply.  We already accept this to some degree in air travel-- all I'm suggesting is that we apply it universally, without exception.

And, one other item, an event everyone seems to be fond of referring to here is that of Richard Reid, where people saw what he was doing and rushed to prevent and apprehend him.  Yes, it's a great example of the role the passengers can play in the whole scheme.  But has it occurred to anyone that if Richard Reid had *one iota* of brain, that he would have gone to the bathroom to carry out his act, and then he probably would have succeeded?

Don't talk to me about relying solely on prevention in the air.  If we let things go that far, we've already lost.

van pelt
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"After all, driving is more dangerous than flying."

Mike, I don't want to seem like I'm picking on you, but I've heard this before, and I've yet to learn what statistical chicanery inspired this claim and from whence it came, but I think *this* is bunk too.  I bet it came from an "accidents per miles traveled" statistic, rather than an "accidents per number of trips" statistic.
************

Last time I looked it up, it was "fatalities per mile traveled" AND "fatalities per trip"

You can also base it on pure logic - airlines are maintained by professionals, run a strict maintenance and inspection schedule, and piloted by professionals who have to pass an incredible number of exams and checks to be where they are.

We let anyone who can answer fifty questions correctly and managed to parallel park "pilot" 3,000 lbs of metal at 60+ miles/hour.

Where would YOU expect to see more fatalities?

----------------------
passengers can play in the whole scheme.  But has it occurred to anyone that if Richard Reid had *one iota* of brain, that he would have gone to the bathroom to carry out his act, and then he probably would have succeeded?


There are smoke detectors in the bathrooms.


Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

"Who cares if they have an 'x-ray' which can see through your clothes"

I care. And I'm willing to fight to protect my right to not be seen naked, my right to avoid unnecessary cancer risks, and my right to amass as many firearms as I can afford to kick as much socialist totalitarian washington insider ass when the revolution comes.

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I think, when the revolution comes, you'll be spending the majority of your ammo defending yourself from 40 other right-wing paramilitaries trying to seize power in the wake of mass chaos.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Dennis -

Well, I suppose Rep. Bernie Sanders has something to worry about now.

Devil's Advocate
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

--
There are smoke detectors in the bathrooms.
--

I think by the time the smoke detector went off and someone went to check it would have been too late to stop him.

NathanJ
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

A lot of you are obviously from the comfortable middle classes where you have seen the horror of violent death.

To be trapped in a tin can with thugs ready to cut the throats of air hostesses and others is a horror you will hopefully never experience. All reasonable steps that prevent this are a terrific idea.


Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I don't think anyone would dispute that reasonable steps should be taken ...

The argument is over whether the steps we take are reasonable.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

...or practical.

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Precisely.

The economic costs of making everyone wait an hour are probably greater than the economic cost of the destruction caused on 9/11. Significantly greater. It's more than an hour for some people--they have to check in luggage which is mostly harmless and thus have to wait 2 more hours.

As for lives lost, well let me take the current administration view on that: when in a dangerous situation, bad things happen.

You cannot be 100% safe. The government intruding into your life does not make you safer.

mb
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

DA,

Bernie Sanders is a misguided idealist. I think pretty harmless.

It's the Republicrats and Democrians I am talking about!

Viva la Revolucion!

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Well, I try to avoid reasoning along the lines of "if a times b times c is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one" - there's a cost of human life which is beyond any economic calculus.

But there's a point - there's no sense in engaging in reactionary, pointless superstitions in the name of "security" if there's no real benefit.  The US has plugged this hole in the dike, but the water continues to pour in through all cracks: to try and stop them all would more than bankrupt the US.  The US must abandon the illusion that total security is possible, and it must not sacrifice the quality of our way of life for the abundity of the same.

Alyosha`
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Actually if Bernie was running for president I'd probably vote for him. He knows what's going on:

http://www.bernie.org/documents/20030910091020-12479.cfm?authenticate=YES

I would expect that he would join us in the revolucion when it comes.

Dennis Atkins
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

van pelt--
you're right, prevention soley in the air is probably too little.

but what, beyond basic weapons checks (been done in the US for very many years) and some additional restrictions (e.g. no big knives) do you think are truly effective?

do you think recording everyone's movements and putting them on a blacklist they can't even find out about because it's secret and they're on it because they have a name similar to someone who fits some unknown profile and thus can't fly is a good thing? (Yes, this is happening today.) Do you think it stops anything?

Most of the 'security' features are not for security. The airlines match names to tickets to prevent ticket resale. Some things are probably done to increase buracracy or funding (the primary goal of most bureaucrats). Some are done to reassure the irrational crowd.

so what specific actions have been done which people complain about but you think increase security, and how?

mb
Wednesday, November 12, 2003

<quote>
We hate to wait, because it is useless.  The criteria for a successful system should be "would it have stopped 9-11?".  If not, then the system is of no value.
</quote>

MSHack I think you're dead wrong. Implementing a system based on whether it would stop a past attack is pointless. Terrorists the like of BL are, sadly, smarter than that. The next attack will not involve flying a plane into a big building as there are too many people watching for it.

Jack of all
Thursday, November 13, 2003

"Who cares if they have an 'x-ray' which can see through your clothes"

All I can say is they're going to have to give me a very big figleaf.


Thursday, November 13, 2003

"there's a cost of human life which is beyond any economic calculus."

Death is inevitable.

One makes a CONCIOUS decision to live based on one's sentiment that one's quality of life is worth living.

I do not want to live at all costs. I want to live as long as I am happy.

In some cases, current legislation makes death a very competitive and tempting alternative.

Tapiwa
Thursday, November 13, 2003

mb--

I guess I should have clarified.  I don't particularly like the sound of the credit and travel checking procedures discussed above, but I wasn't talking about them when I said we should assume everyone is a threat.  I was referring to the quote from the MIT article posted by MSHack, which said that security-checking every passenger is unfeasible.  I disagree with that.

van pelt
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Re: the shoebomber... I'm not sure the smoke detectors would have been any help:

beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep...

Bang! bang!

Sir? Sir, are you smoking in there? Sir, you're going to have to extinguish that...

BA-BOOOOOOOM!!!


He only needed thirty seconds.

Katie Lucas
Thursday, November 13, 2003

>>He only needed thirty seconds.

No, he got over a minute and it wasn't long enough...

He had problems actually lighting the fuse and it took a bit for the other passengers to figure out why he was acting strange.

RocketJeff
Thursday, November 13, 2003


As for becoming a "counter-terrorist" state like Israel.  Haven't you watched the news? It isn't exactly free from terrorist attacks over there.

Besides, the whole conflict in the middle east (centuries of religious conflict) and how Israel is trying to secure their borders doesn't translate very well to the U.S. experience (centuries of religious tolerance).

Civil liberties are it... end of story.

I voted for Bernie
Thursday, November 13, 2003

What's amazing is the amount of freedom or provacy people will give up to just feel safe. But that safety is just that, a feeling. It's not true safety. So now you have less freedom and the same amount of safety. Do you feel better?

trollbooth
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Jack of all, I think that is sort of what people mean by using "would it have stopped 9/11" as a criteria.  Many of the "security" attempts would only be effective against an attack that is similar to what we have seen before.  Something that would have stopped 9/11, however, would have been stopping something that we could have hardly imagined prior to the event.

Mike McNertney
Thursday, November 13, 2003

9/11 was something that we could never have imagined before?  I can't be the only person who's read Tom Clancy's "Debt of Honor" which ends with a pilot crashing a 747 into the Capitol during a joint session of Congress.

GML
Thursday, November 13, 2003

And how about the book 'The Running Man'? The hero ends the book by crashing an airplane into a tall skyscrapper.

(note: the book was written by Stephen King under a psuedonym and was made into the [very adapted] movie staring Arnold S.).

RocketJeff
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Or how about the Columbine Massacre duo, who stated in their notes that their plan was to shoot up the school, hold hostages in order to get ahold of a plane, and then slam the plane into a tall building in New York?

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Am I the only person who ever notices these things? I sometimes wonder... it was the first thing I thought of on 9/11.

This plane into skyscraper plan was not a novel invention of al qaeda. It was a scheme talked about and promoted and written about extensively by millons of people. It should have come as no surprise whatsoever to the airlines or the government, nor while the next attack involving nukes smuggled in on cargo ships previously stolen by islamic moros.

http://www.newstribune.com/stories/042699/wor_0426990044.html

Monday, April 26, 1999

Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone earlier told reporters the goal of the killers, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, was to strike during the busy lunch hour to go for "a big kill."

>But sheriff's department spokesman Steve Davis said today that the gunmen's diary indicates that if they survived, they wanted more.

>"They wanted to kill 500 people, hijack a plane and take it to New York City," Davis said. "If in fact they were able to carry out the entire plan, there could have been quite a bit more damage and quite a few more fatalities."

>As to why the gunmen were thinking of New York City, he said: "I have no idea. Maybe the density of population, for all I know."

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, November 13, 2003

Here's the plan in his own words:

"If by some wierd as shit luck my and V survive and escape we will move to some island somewhere or maybe mexico, new zelend or some exotic place where americans cant get us. if there isnt such a place, then we will hijack a hell of a lot of bombs and crash a plane into NYC with us inside iring away as we go down." -- Eric Harris, writing in April 1998, one year before he massacred 12 other students and a teacher.

Actually, most of his diaries he had scanned and put on the internet. I downloaded most of them on the day the massacre occured when I saw them browsing the accounts on CNN news which had found the files, I think it was on an aol home page. Only minutes later, the account was shut down by the feds. You can get a lot of very interesting files if you are quick and good at freeze-frame while watching the news.

Dennis Atkins
Thursday, November 13, 2003

You can check everybody; it's done in the UK; indeed  it's a long time since I have taken a flight where it doesn't happen.

I may add that I fail to see any purpose to the additional checking, apart from adding twenty minutes to the waiting time and a large amount of money for the ticket.

I do like Dennis's idea of giving everybody Bowie knives and sabres; watching passengers disembowel each other in the queue for the toilet would be much better than the normal inflight movie.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, November 15, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home