Tagging air travellers

Here’s another little snippet, this time from Telegraph Expat, on how privacy is being chopped off and fed to the big terror-eating monster.

You know, there’s a wager being bet on right now, and it’s this: that the biggest threat to freedom today isn’t, oh, the governments who are legislating immense powers for themselves, but some guys far away who hide in caves when the American military comes half-heartedly looking for them.

What you think about that wager has everything to do with what you think is the more immediate threat, but that’s unfortunate. After all, if you think of the big picture, there will always, always be an external threat to liberty — and yet, until now, there hasn’t been much in the way of manifestations of those threats, even though there are lots of people worldwide who feel they have a reason to act upon their hatred.

And so, the freedom- and privacy-eaters are urging the American people to wager that the external threat is the more dire. Now, they have a little bit of a point: after all, these enemies outside of the US aren’t friendly. They do, very occasionally, blow things up. They like to do it. And so, as the freedom-eaters say, it’s necessary to bring about massive changes in American, and global, culture.

(Lest we forget, airports worldwide have followed most of the changes implemented by the American airports, even in places where not one case of terrorist passage has occurred, and even for flights between two countries that have been free from non-domestic terrorism.)

I’m not saying that they’re wrong, either. Changes maybe did need to happen, after 9-11. I’ve heard airport security was a bit of a joke before that. But are the changes that have happened the ones we needed? Have we used technology intelligently to preserve what’s good in Western society — relative freedom and respect for personal privacy — or have we allowed cultural changes undercutting good parts of our society become the expense for increase security, or the illusion of the same?

Let’s be realistic. If you want to keep passengers from blowing up airplanes, or hijacking them, there are a few simple things that would make such an action much more difficult:

  • Have all passengers change into airline issued soft-cotton pajamas with no pockets and matching comfy slippers. Their street clothes will be shipped in a packing crate. Allow them no carry-on baggage for short flights, and only a book or PC or MP3 player plus fragile stuff, medicines, and/or other necessaries (a kit for baby care, for example) — one or two items only, perhaps with a nominal inspection charge — for long-haul flights, and those items are subject to inspection before flying. If you’re really scared, ban all baggage. People can buy whatever they need for the trip when they arrive.
  • Build planes where there’s no door between the cabin and the cockpit. In other words, install separate entrances for the cockpit, and perhaps for each of the classes of cabin, too. Install controls in the cockpit for some relatively hypo-allergenic, safe knockout gas, so that if anyone gets rowdy, the whole cabinful of passengers and flight crew gets to sleep till arrival.
  • Line the casing surrounding the cabin with lead or some other radioproofing material. No wireless signals can pass into the cargo deck, so no wireless control of bombs and the like. Install a failsafe system by which electronic communications with the cabin can be shut off at the first sign of trouble by any of the cabin staff without any way of switching it back on. And until such changes are made, install remote controls into the planes so that manual controls can be overridden completely, with of course a very strong failsafe mechanism to prevent such a thing happening accidentally.
  • If you don’t ban carry-on baggage, then sure, tag passengers. And then start letting them leave their already-security cleared baggage around the place for up to twenty minutes unsupervised, since, anyway, and give them personal access to their personal tagset via some free software that can be squirted into their cellphone via bluetooth or something, so they can track their own stuff, including keeping an eye on whether someone else, similarly tagged, approaches their stuff suspciously. Hell, tag their checked baggage too, so they can know whether it’ll arrive with them when they get to the destination. And work out some agreement by which their browsing information in the airport shopping area could be made available — for a flight-cost reducing data-exchange fee — to the companies running shops in the airport, so as to allow them to improve their marketing.
  • Book multiple flights during the same few hours, and people booked for a certain flight assigned to this or that specific one by lottery. (It might be possible that people who can demonstrate familial relation could be forcibly booked into the same flight. But multiple adults without familial relation would be randomly assigned, like all other adults on their flight.) With more highly segmented cabins, the chances that any two co-conspirators will be reduced, and the chances that any three or four co-conspirators will be much smaller.

Just tagging people, to, like, better see where they are and what they’re doing… I don’t know, it seems to me like a technological hammer being applied to a nail that’s mostly hammered all the way in. Unless the tag can sniff out explosives, it seems likely to cause more false positives than less… and I, for one, don’t feel like having airport security come and check why I’m in the bathroom for more than ten minutes for the second time in two hours while waiting for my flight.

I don’t know that my suggestions above are any better, but I do suspect that, if we think hard enough, we can find brilliantly clever technological solutions to any problem. We’re not looking for them because too many people have been convinced that what’s really needed is a sociocultural change — that we need to trade some liberty for our security. And, incidentally, the changes above don’t disriminate against just “suspicious” people, which these days I take as a Bush Administration code word for “Arabs’n’Persians”. Instead, these solutions are imposed on everyone on every flight pretty much equally.

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