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Jun 16

A Couple Of Security Updates

It’s fair to say that I’m not a fan of the TSA. I’ve always considered much of what they do to be security theater*, which can create as many problems as it solves. It’s rare that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) does anything to improve efficiency at the checkpoints, since it has no incentive to do so. Any politician who advocated changes to the airport that even appeared to be “loosening” security would be characterized by their opponent as soft on terrorism.

Thus, I was surprised to see the TSA announce a few trial balloons that might actually speed up lines. Of course, it involves giving the government more of your information than you actually want to, but that’s a personal issue.

The Myth of Fingerprints


A fingerprint. Or maybe a fish. Photo Credit: Creative Commons

This one scares me. I’m more than a little nervous about the idea of a new program that will allow you to replace your boarding pass and ID with a fingerprint. I’ve been fingerprinted on more than one occasion, so I have no skin in the game (pardon the pun), but privacy experts are right to be cautious. I’m also concerned that the fingerprint check could slow down the lines. The TSA is an agency of technology built by the lowest bidder, and I have no doubt that there will be many, many instances of the machine being unable to read your print or, even worse, matching it falsely to somebody else’s. Either way, a misread would no doubt lead to a full body probe. But let’s be entirely fair: Privacy experts are worried that having your prints on file will make you much easier to find if you commit a crime, but there’s probably a better way to manage that situation: Don’t commit crimes.**

3-D Security

I have a much more favorable view of a test that the TSA is running in conjunction with American Airlines in Phoenix. The agency is implementing 3-D CT technology that could eventually allow you to keep your liquids and laptops in your bag. Not only would this procedure speed up the line but it would also mean fewer TSOs yelling in my ear, “ALL LIQUIDS AND GELS NEED TO BE OUT OF YOUR BAG AND IN A BIN!” Again, I don’t understand what the threat of liquids and laptops was to begin with. The current technology can’t tell if your laptop is anything but a laptop, while the liquids ban leaves a lot of questions unanswered (e.g., If six ounces of liquid is a threat, then why am I able to carry two three-ounce containers on the plane?). But for now, I’ll just be happy that the lines might move a tad bit faster.


*Beginner’s Hint: The term “security theater” was coined by privacy expert Bruce Schneier, and refers to the concept of security that allows people to feel safer but, in fact, has little practical purpose. I consider checking identification to be one of those items, by the way. If the screeners are doing their jobs, it shouldn’t matter who is getting on the plane. We should know who passengers are before they get to the airport.

**And again, we get into the dilemma of what happens if you are accidentally linked to a crime that you didn’t commit. That is a perfectly valid concern, and one of my biggest with the program. But when a privacy expert says that “you’ll want to keep your nose clean for the rest of you life,” as he did in the linked article, that may be a good thing to consider regardless of whether anyone has your fingerprints.


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