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Welcome to the Security Theatre

by , April 5, 2010

Welcome to the Security Theatre

Dispelling some common air travel myths

Bruce Schneier is one of those specialists that have transcended their area of expertise. An expert in cryptography, internet security and now security as a broader issue, his commentary has the kind of common sense that Seth Godin brings to marketing.

His blog covers loads, but the bits we love the most are his musings on travel and aviation security. Security Theatre is a term he has coined to describe “security measures that make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security.”

Carrying better is almost always about facilitating some form of travel, so we thought it would be good to start dispelling some of the myths that travelers have about security. Here’s a few of those memes that really should be shot down…

Mostly, travel locks don’t work

A pen can open a zipper in seconds, reveal the contents, and then be closed without any sign of entry:

And this is just the easiest way to lose possessions. Loads of travelers have had luggage slashed, stolen while going through the security checks, or simply mugged.

If you really want to lock that luggage, consider Pacsafe bags, locks that are fixed to a position on the bag (this at least stops them closing the zip again if they have breached it), or hard cases with a lock across the gap.

Bizarrely, packing a gun does help

Another option in the US is to pack a gun. BoingBoing covered an interesting bit of research suggesting that gun totting luggage gets far better security through its passage. We don’t really like this idea (we’re peace loving hippies), so we think some alternative might be to get several piercings and some Yakuza style ink. That should stop them messing with you.

Or just avoid luggage all together. Zero Baggage is a company trying to help you do just this, encouraging renting items at your desitination.

But really, our favorite idea to reduce theft is to just avoid attention. Look more like a local, travel with less luggage, and walk with purpose. It’s easier than getting sucked in to the Fort Knox thing.

Fancy passports suck

Those RFID chips living in your new passport are a bit scary. While your government tells you about all the great security they improve (they don’t really), what they mostly do is allow for much easier identity theft, movement tracking, and scam targeting. The chips can be read from a distance, revealing all your details with the right scanners.

So what should you do? If your government cares for you at all, they have hopefully given the passport a scan resistant cover. Keep your passport closed whenever possible, and be primed at dodgy hotels or car rentals for scanning devices when the passport is open.

Lots of sites give you ideas about disabling these chips, but we’re hoping that just being careful and aware is enough.

Quiet about mobile phones on aircraft

Why can’t you use your phone on an aircraft? Basically because if everyone did, it might reduce the capacity of the cellular service on the towers below. It doesn’t really have anything to do with your safety, it’s just an easier way to get everyone behaving. If you want to read more about the specifics, check the Wikipedia article as a starting place. But hey, phone use in tight confines sucks, so don’t start now…

Know of any other common myths? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.


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