Many of you who know me know that I am a great admirer of Bruce Schneier, a renowned cryptology and security expert who has been a thorn in the side of those who believe all security issues can be solved with big, expensive machines and the push of a button. He is the inventor of the term “security theater”, or measures that are more effective at looking like you are doing something than actually doing anything to make you safer. I have several of his books and I highly recommend them. Anyway, recently Bruce was uninvited from testifying in front of Congress at the insistence of the TSA. I imagine this has something to do with the fact that he is a very vocal critic of the TSA and many of their policies.
In truth, I was in favor of the TSA being created as a government agency. Obviously the airlines were not taking security very seriously, and they seemed to be in favor of saving money over carrying out effective policies. Unfortunately, the TSA has also proved that it is subject to the same sort of bureaucratic silliness that infects so many other large organizations – especially when following the letter of the law overtakes common sense (and thus wastes the time, money and resources of the organization). Of course, a while back I commented on the confiscation of a cupcake by the TSA, but believe me, that is hardly the only ridiculous entry in the Bad Call Hall of Shame. An article in Salon from a couple of months ago lists some of the less flattering decisions made by TSA employees. Since the writer, Patrick Smith, says it far better than I could, I will just quote him at length:
TSA confiscates a butter knife from an airline pilot. TSA confiscates a teenage girl’s purse with an embroidered handgun design. TSA confiscates a 4-inch plastic rifle from a GI Joe action doll on the grounds that it’s a “replica weapon.” TSA confiscates a liquid-filled baby rattle from airline pilot’s infant daughter. TSA confiscates a plastic “Star Wars” lightsaber from a toddler.
All of these things really happened. There’s no real need to arrange them in order of ridiculousness, but it’s that last one, with the lightsaber, that really makes you wonder if we haven’t lost our minds. (I mentioned this incident in a column last month, but it deserves another reckoning.) In earthly terms a lightsaber is a toy flashlight covered by a rounded plastic cone. As a “weapon,” though, it is something that exists only in fantasy. The product neither looks like a real weapon nor does it contains part that, by themselves, are TSA contraband. It is an imaginary weapon hazardous only to a race of imaginary space-people invented by George Lucas.
Thus, confiscating a lightsaber is a little like confiscating a genie bottle or a magic wand.
Well said, sir. Well said. Again, this makes us safer… how? Thanks, but I will take the train instead.