Apparently the TSA has been testing software which will display a generic person instead of your naked body when going through a nude-o-scope. (HT: legalalien on Milepoint.)
The idea is to display hidden items under clothing but instead of against an image of your naked body, against a generic naked body drawing that will tell the TSA where to look in secondary screening.
They’ll be rolling out the software “in the comming months” to millimeter wave machines, but not yet to backscatter machines.
My guess is that this will satisfy many privacy advocates, it’s a brilliant PR move, but does little to address the underlying problems of the TSA — its wasteful inability to do things that actually promote security — all the while making us used to submitting to inspections by the state as part of our daily lives.
Naked images aside (for which you ‘assume the position’) are incredibly easy to fool and a determined terrorist could easily sneak weapons through undetected. The TSA doesn’t believe that the liquids confiscated at the security checkpoint are dangerous. That’s why they toss confiscated liquids into a bin at security. They don’t, y’know, engage in hazardous materials protocols.. And the TSA has never even caught a terrorist or would-be terrorist. There are far more criminals working for the TSA than ever discovered by the TSA.
The TSA is designed for politicians to look like they’re doing something to protect us, all the while security companies are profiting off sales of expensive, useless equipment to the government. We didn’t get rid of the silly and useless puffers until there was a new boondoggle being promoted by a former Secretary of Homeland Security in the nude-o-scopes.
The key things to remember about the TSA, and the war on terror more broadly, are that:
- The risk of terrorism is small. Any investment, at any cost, makes no sense.
- And those approaches don’t work.
There are over 300 million people in the US. Horrible things happen every day, and terrorism isn’t one of those things. Statistically speaking the chances of a terrorist attack happening to anyone are pretty much zero. You’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be the victim of a terrorist attack. But what we get is an arms race for would-be terrorists in which we’re perpetually behind.
Security checkpoints screened for bombs before 9/11. Those hijackers used boxcutters. So no more boxcutters, Richard Reid stuck a ton of wires in his shoes that probably wouldn’t have blown up anything, but now we all have to take off our shoes. So then there was the liquid plot and we get the War on Water. So the underpants bomber brought PETN through security. His plot wouldn’t have worked, but it was airline passengers – not the TSA or air marshalls – who subdued him.
As Bruce Schneier says, “This is a stupid game and we should stop playing it.”
Does that mean we don’t do anything? No, it means that the tactics we’re using don’t protect us so we should look elsewhere. I don’t think it’s a generally good idea that the US is fighting three simultaneous wars with Islam (and pretending that we’re not).
Schneier talks about intelligence and investigation, largely invisible, being the best ways to foil plots. I actually disagree, I think the intelligence bureaucracies aren’t especially effective either. Which is why we want systems which aren’t designed to foil every conceivable past plot, but which are resilient to lapses in effectiveness.
Reinforced cockpit doors, passengers ready to pounce, It’s sad to say but we cannot with 100% effectiveness prevent terrorist plots. But pretending like what we’re doing even attempts that is silly. It’s meant to pacify citizens into complacency and make government contractors rich.
Besides, making airplanes safer – if we were even doing that – would only shift terrorist efforts to less secure but equally high profile venues. Stadiums, public transit, government buildings, other icons like the World Trade Center. We don’t have the resources to secure everything, even if we knew how and genuinely had that as our aim. But in a magical world of such resources, we would need to develop a nationwide Benthamite panopticon to do it.
While the naked images are troubling, especially for my younger female colleagues who are often designated to go through the machines even before getting to the front of the security line, as the TSA agent ‘picking people’ does his buddies a solid, they really are just the smallest problem we face with airport security.