Security versus the illusion of security

Confused?  You aren’t the only one.

I have worked in security-related fields for many years, and I believe very strongly in preparedness and education as they relate to safety and security in general.  I also believe that far too much effort in this country is expended on things that are supposed to enhance safety and security but in reality do very little, except perhaps line some people’s pockets.  And it is extremely frustrating, to put it mildly.   What happens frequently is while we are expending tremendous effort on things that are essentially useless, there are real problems that go unaddressed.  In IT security, I see some of the most horrific damage done to computers and networks by people who assumed that they were safe because they used passwords, or assumed that they would always be under the radar of hackers.  In regards to public safety, I see a lot of obsession over terrorism that goes far beyond what could actually be done by terrorists, and far too little attention paid to things that are actually killing people, like natural disasters,  fires, household accidents, or automobile accidents.

Case in point: the TSA’s obsessive behavior when it comes to their rules regarding liquids and gels has gotten to be so utterly ridiculous, that they have started confiscating cupcakes and pudding cups.   Please note that in the case of the pudding confiscation, a Swiss Army knife carried by the same traveler was missed.  I will let that sink in for a moment before I repeat myself.

The security screeners overlooked a Swiss Army knife with a 4 inch blade but instead confiscated the traveler’s pudding cups.

Do you feel safer?  I don’t.  This ridiculous level of intrusion and time-wasting is why I have given up flying.  When I attended a security conference three years ago, I took Amtrak.  When I had to see my parents on short notice, I drove 1100 miles to Alabama.  It is my intention to never fly again domestically if I can help it.  I made this choice partly because I refuse to condone the security theater that is now being performed in airports and thus I refuse to submit to it.  I also refuse to put up with the ridiculous abuse of passengers by airlines.   Further, I have no confidence whatsoever in the airlines’ ability to get me where I am supposed to be on time, and do it in a way that does not make me want to throw furniture at people’s heads somewhere during the course of the journey.  Furthermore, I also have no faith that should something bad actually happen from a security (or safety) standpoint, that I will get out of it safe and sound if I am on a plane.  Yes, statistically speaking air travel is quite safe, but also statistically speaking, I am pretty sure that modern air travel has become such a horrific experience that customer satisfaction has bottomed out.  It may take longer, but when I get in my car or board a train, I am pretty sure I know when I will arrive at my destination and what sort of mood I will be in when I get there.

Even if I was afraid of terrorists, I have no confidence in the ability of the TSA or the airlines to keep me safe.  None.  I think that as long as airlines and the government insist on scanning everyone with undertrained employees using  expensive machines we will continue to fail.  The better solution would seem to be doing the hard work that takes educated, well-trained people who learn to recognize behaviors in individuals, not broad sweeps of everyone wearing anything that looks like a turban.  We constantly collect data, but with no one to translate and analyze it, it is useless to collect it at all.  And yet until very recently, we as a country would still kick Arabic and Farsi translators out of the military for being gay.  It makes no sense.  I think this is a long-term, unforeseen consequence of anti-intellectualism in our culture.  Collectively we no longer have the ability as a group to make the right choices, the smart and effective decisions.

God help us when we face a real crisis, an honest-to-God national catastrophe.

-Geoff

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