Airport Screening: What Is It Good For?

Airport Security Gone Mad by Stephen Witherden on FlickrAnyone who has traveled by air in the past seven years knows the drill well: long lines, multiple boarding pass checks, putting your laptop, liquids, metal and shoes in separate bins, more boarding pass and ID checks, and maybe a personal search that turns up nothing. Security technologist Bruce Schneier calls this Security Theater — an act put on by the TSA to make people feel safe that doesn’t necessarily ensure actual safety. “The whole system is designed to catch stupid terrorists,” he recently told The Atlantic. Though most frequent travelers know why there are liquid restrictions and the reason behind having to remove footwear (even if they don’t agree that it’s necessary), they may not understand the point of putting their laptop in a separate bin or a checkpoint-friendly case. According to TSA spokesperson Lara Uselding, Transportation Security Officers isolate all large electronics — including video cameras and game systems like PS3s — to eliminate items that might block their view. They’re looking for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or components hidden in the guts. Smaller devices like iPods are screened and scrutinized as well, though they can remain in carry-on baggage. When I asked Bruce Schneier if there was really a point to this isolated screening process, he was quick to say: Not really. “If you look at places that take airport security really seriously, like Israel, they don’t bother. London doesn’t bother.” He’s also quick to point out that travelers shouldn’t make a fuss about it, anyway. “Just do what you have to do to get through the line.” Recombobulation AreaOne way to do that without having to go through the laptop shuffle is to buy one of the new checkpoint friendly bags. You can leave your computer in the bag (opened to lay flat) then quickly collect it on the other side of the x-ray machine. It will save you a few minutes in the overlong screening process and eliminate the need to hang out in the Recombobulation Area. Check out our checkpoint friendly bag roundup for our picks and our blog post from earlier this year to scope some reader favorites.

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  1. mumbaikar Says:

    Screening passengers to retain high security at the airport works if the airport area itself is secure. This recent picture of Mumbai Airport shows that the airport landing strips are accessible to casual onlookers. This beats the whole purpose of passenger screenings at the gates.

  2. Glenn Waring Says:

    It is theater. They check 100% of the of the passengers and their belongings but only physically check 5% of cargo. They have a “know your shipper policy”. Again it’s a theatrical staging to allow companies like GE to make billions of dollars and to have a federal agency who’s job it is to keep us scared as citizens.

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