Monday, November 29, 2010

Liberty, security or just foolishness

Instructions I received before flying ...

If all goes well, at the point at which anyone sees this post, I'll be flying over the Pacific Ocean on the way back from Nepal, via Hong Kong.

As someone who has had all to much interaction with airport security theater, I'll be keeping notes on what the experience of travel to and from Asia is like these days and will report on the blog anything interesting I observe when I get back.

Meanwhile, people might want to read the Atlantic Magazine's James Fallows who knows more about this than I ever expect to.

To wax earnest for a moment: here are things I know, first hand, about airport procedures in the rest of the world, versus what's becoming standard via the TSA.

In China, you don't have to take off your shoes (usually) or be patted down (that I have seen). Only the flights to the US have extra-special security drills. And this is Communist Red China with its locked-up dissidents I am talking about.

Same in Japan, when I was there this summer.

In Australia, for domestic flights you don't have to produce identification of any kind, take off your shoes, etc. Last week I flew from Sydney to Canberra and back on Qantas. It was just like Amtrak procedures in the US: you type in your confirmation number at a terminal, it spits your ticket out, and you get on board. That's it. (You pass through a keep-your-shoes-on metal detector, no pat-downs.)

In Korea, you go through security procedures when you get OFF the plane and go into the airport, but that's a separate story. As soon as the TSA learns about that...

And in Israel, the former head of airport security says the new imaging machines don't do any good.

Seriously, the security-versus-liberty situation is always a balance. But who in public life is speaking for the "liberty" side of the balance at the moment? Where is the check on new machines, procedures, requirements from the TSA -- or the politician who will ask, Is this worth it? Worth the money, worth the intrusion, worth the frisking of children, worth the frisking of uniformed pilots, worth the police-state air? Conceivably most Americans would still answer "yes," but I'd like to hear the question raised.

More soon.

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