I have a confession to make: Going through security at the airport stresses me out, because I’m always worried that I’ve accidentally broken some rule that will get me pulled aside.
And when they pull you aside, they just leave your belongings — your purse, your computer — there on the conveyor belt for anyone to pick up, so that you’re trying to cooperate with the officer while still keeping an eye on your stuff. Plus who knows what might happen if they decide you might actually be a miscreant.
Furthermore, I am never happy in situations where I’m supposed to act like a sheep and just do what I’m told to do, with no explanations.
But I might be more tolerant of the process if it made us all safer. Unfortunately, it doesn’t. Airport security isn’t security; it’s security theatre. As Bruce Schneier says,
Security theater refers to security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.
Schneier is an expert on security, both the cryptographic and the daily life kind. His most recent book on the subject is Schneier on Security. In a recent essay published in the New Internationalist, he makes a strong case for dealing with terrorism by using basic police work: “intelligence, investigation, and emergency response.” But that sort of thing doesn’t make headlines. As Schneier writes:
Unfortunately for politicians, the security measures that work are largely invisible. Such measures include enhancing the intelligence-gathering abilities of the secret services, hiring cultural experts and Arabic translators, building bridges with Islamic communities both nationally and internationally, funding police capabilities — both investigative arms to prevent terrorist attacks, and emergency communications systems for after attacks occur — and arresting terrorist plotters without media fanfare. They do not include expansive new police or spying laws. Our police don’t need any new laws to deal with terrorism; rather, they need apolitical funding. These security measures don’t make good television, and they don’t help, come re-election time. But they work, addressing the reality of security instead of the feeling.
Frankly, I’d like to see more real security and less theatre. Watching someone forced to toss out their guacamole salad because the security officer decided it was a liquid — that’s not an online rumor; I actually saw that happen — doesn’t inspire me with confidence. Neither does the fact that it’s OK for me to carry a screwdriver on an airplane, but not a Swiss Army knife (also a true story; it really happened to me).
And I’m really getting tired of taking off my shoes.
Nancy Jane’s flash fiction for this week is “The Little Android.” Her collection Conscientious Inconsistencies is available from PS Publishing and her novella Changeling can be ordered from Aqueduct Press.
Check out The Nancy Jane Moore Bookshelf for more stories.