Airport Security is a Waste of Money and Time

X-ray machines and metal detectors are used to...

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Further to our discussion in class today, with regard to moral panics, of the human tendency not to understand risks, here’s an excellent and timely article from the New York Times by security expert Bruce Schneier on how almost every aspect of airport security is a waste of time and money. Most security measures result from media-inspired moral panics, and most of them involve a complete lack of understanding of the nature of risk.

A short history of airport security: We screen for guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We confiscate box cutters and corkscrews, so they put explosives in their sneakers. We screen footwear, so they try to use liquids. We confiscate liquids, so they put PETN bombs in their underwear. We roll out full-body scanners, even though they wouldn’t have caught the Underwear Bomber, so they put a bomb in a printer cartridge. We ban printer cartridges over 16 ounces — the level of magical thinking here is amazing — and they’re going to do something else.

This is a stupid game, and we should stop playing it.


Neither the full-body scanners or the enhanced pat-downs are making anyone safer. They’re more a result of politicians and government appointees capitulating to a public that demands that “something must be done,” even when nothing should be done; and a government bureaucracy that is more concerned about the security of their careers if they fail to secure against the last attack than what happens if they fail anticipate the next one.

via A Waste of Money and Time – Room for Debate –