security theatre exposed: we're taking off our shoes while people on terror-watch lists travel freely

In one of my courses last term, "Knowledge and Information in Society," one of the topics explored was surveillance and control.

The professor, Andrew Clement, has amassed a huge body of research with practical, real-life applications. One lecture that made a big impression on me summarized his work on Ontario's plans for the so-called enhanced driver's license, an identity document permitting travel to and from the United States in lieu of a passport.

Ontario planned and implemented the licenses without public input or oversight, and a group at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information tried to participate. After numerous Access to Information requests and other attempts were stalled or ignored, they held their own hearings. (This was part of a graduate student's PhD thesis.)

My interpretation of their findings: the enhanced driver's license is a frightening intrusion into citizen privacy and offers no greater security or time-savings than any other document.

Dr Clement used the term "security theatre": a presentation from the state giving only the appearance of increased security. The methods of security theatre are often an invasion of the state into our lives and onto our very bodies.

This struck Allan and I as a perfect expression of what we've seen at airports since September, 2001. Many of us realize that the ridiculous rituals now being carried out at airports all over the world do nothing but delay, frustrate and harass us, and in some cases - those of us with brown skin and/or Arabic-sounding last names - humiliate and harm us. And they don't make us one hair safer.

This week the masks fell off the ongoing performance of security theatre, when a man boarded a plane despite: [sources below]

  • being on terrorist watch lists both in the UK and the US (but not on the no-fly list!),

  • having been seen trying to board the Amsterdam-Detroit flight without a passport,

  • having been refused a UK student visa following an application to study at a fake university (he then obtained a US visa, issued in London),

  • his own father having warned security services in both Nigeria and the US about his extremist views,

  • buying a one-way ticket, and

  • paying cash.

    Meanwhile, we are taking off our shoes, throwing out water bottles, putting hand lotion in special packaging and submitting to all manner of intrusions and humiliations, causing us hours and hours of travel delays, or worse.

    I can't help but wonder if Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was allowed to fly not because of incompetence, but by intent. Either way, the incident exposes the complete sham we've been forced to live with for the past eight years.

    If you're interested in the research into enhanced driver's licenses and other surveillance, you might want to check out The Surveillance Project of Queen's Univeristy and The Identity, Privacy and Security Institute (IPSI) at the U of T. IPSI "is dedicated to developing new approaches to security that maintain the privacy, freedom and safety of the individual and the broader community".


    Sources: The Age (Australia), CBS, ABC, New York Times, Daily Mail (UK).

    redsock said...

    You know what else is a grave threat to airport security?


    L-girl said...

    Oh fuck you Jim DeMint, and the labour-busting horse you rode in on.

    Remember the "hero of the Hudson," whose UNION crew got everyone off the plane safely and calmly?

    I have a whole bunch of other examples, but not the time and inclination to post them all here in comments.

    L-girl said...

    Some Canadian Skeptic: tribute to union labour. Will someone please send this to James Fucking DeMint?

    Joe Gravellese said...

    I was thinking the same thing when I read the details of this story. Silly.

    And obviously it took Republicans 5.2 seconds to politicize the incident.

    redsock said...


    Who's running the TSA? No one, thanks to Sen. Jim DeMint

    An attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day would be all-consuming for the administrator of the Transportation Security Administration — if there were one.

    The post remains vacant because Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., has held up President Barack Obama's nominee in opposition to the prospect of TSA workers joining a labor union.


    impudent strumpet said...

    Currently wondering: has the shoe removal thing protected ANYONE or in any way caught any potential threat? One guy tried a shoe bomb. Because of that, they now check shoes. Has anyone else been stupid enough to try a shoe bomb since then?

    L-girl said...

    The shoe thing is the perfect example of how this idiot operation runs. Guy tries to blow up a plane with his shoe - now we all have to remove our shoes. It's all reactive.

    Allan noted yesterday that this latest guy supposedly had explosives sewn into his underwear. What does that mean for future airport searches?? :)

    redsock said...

    "Transport Canada continues to tighten security at airports, which were thrown into chaos as a result of stricter security regulations in place in the wake of the attempted bombing of an airplane on Christmas Day.
    Effective immediately, passengers headed to the United States will not be allowed to travel with carry-on bags, Transport Canada said in a statement."


    So spend more $ to check your bags.