Sunday, December 30, 2007

Airport Security and Liquid Contraband

The other day I saw a photograph of an airport security guard standing in front of dozens of large plastic bags full of confiscated liquids. The bags were stacked in a corridor and passengers were streaming by.

"Isn't this strange," I thought. Those bags are full of potentially dangerous chemicals that could destroy an aircraft yet the security guard seems unconcerned about the potential threat. As it turns out, there are lots of people who think that airport security is a farce. Patrick Smith has written about it in today's New York Times [The Airport Security Follies].
“I would not hesitate to allow that liquid explosives can pose a danger,” Greene added, recalling Ramzi Yousef’s 1994 detonation of a small nitroglycerine bomb aboard Philippine Airlines Flight 434. The explosion was a test run for the so-called “Project Bojinka,” an Al Qaeda scheme to simultaneously destroy a dozen widebody airliners over the Pacific Ocean. “But the idea that confiscating someone’s toothpaste is going to keep us safe is too ridiculous to entertain.”

Yet that’s exactly what we’ve been doing. The three-ounce container rule is silly enough — after all, what’s to stop somebody from carrying several small bottles each full of the same substance — but consider for a moment the hypocrisy of T.S.A.’s confiscation policy. At every concourse checkpoint you’ll see a bin or barrel brimming with contraband containers taken from passengers for having exceeded the volume limit. Now, the assumption has to be that the materials in those containers are potentially hazardous. If not, why were they seized in the first place? But if so, why are they dumped unceremoniously into the trash? They are not quarantined or handed over to the bomb squad; they are simply thrown away. The agency seems to be saying that it knows these things are harmless. But it’s going to steal them anyway, and either you accept it or you don’t fly.
It's about time that we started to protest against the waste of time and effort at airport security lines. This is a huge over-reaction to 9/11 and the fear of terrorism.

Read what John Wilkins has to say on Evolving Thoughts [Follies d'Air]. He puts things into historical perspective and points out that we are not only being inconvenienced by such folly but also surrendering considerable rights and freedoms in the name of "security." You'll appreciate John's ability to link airport security measures with Julius Caesar and the Prussians.

[Photo Credit: Tim Boyle/Getty Images from the MSNBC website (Where will all that liquid contraband go?)]


  1. Yes, it's doubly absurd that while airport security is busy taking away little bottles of skin cream and toothpaste, airlines are still selling those little bottles of alcohol on many of their planes. What a resourceful terrorist might do with one of those....

  2. The really scary thing is that most people think it's just fine- its "keeping them safe" and "they're just doing their jobs", after all. We have become a nation of sheep.