As a photographer who travels, I would like to dispel a couple of myths.
When I was a child, I would have laughed at the suggestion I would one day have to remove my shoes and belt on a regular basis. Unless I am a jailed criminal, that’s not going to happen! And having to hold my hands visibly above my lap? Being interrogated about bathroom use, and no bathroom visits allowed for an hour? Not allowed to touch my belongings? No dystopia I could have dreamt up would have contained militaristic measures quite so extreme. Being seen naked every time I travel? Now I would have really pinched my arm, convinced I was having a very unrealistic nightmare.
And yet, this now happens every time we board one of these:
So the first myth I would like to dispel is the myth that my “slippery slope” arguments are fearmongering. It’s like when something bad happens and you mention the Nazis, that somehow invalidates the argument. I have never understood quite why: Nazism is a great lesson to us all in “how not to let things happen”. Similarly, every time you express displeasure at increasing silliness of our air travel security, the argument is dismissed with “oh, it’s that slippery slope argument again”. Well, the slipperly slope is not in the future: it is here; and we have already slid down it into the lake.
The second myth is that our “security” efforts actually do anything to enhance security. Of course they don’t.
Here’s how our kneejerk-reaction security thinking goes:
- Mohammad Atta used box cutters: Quick, ban all wine glasses and pocketknives. Stare intently and suspiciously at travellers’ belongings. Give travelers plastic forks, too. Epi-pens (and I carry one regularly) are still allowed, by the way (would-be terrorists, take note).
- Richard Reed used shoes: Quick, take off shoes. (Remember to shout at your clients in an authoritative manner if they do not do this quickly enough).
- UK terrorists used liquids: Quick, ban all liquids! 100 ml is OK though, but only if in a one-quart plastic bag (sucks to be you, metric people). Make mothers drink breast milk to ensure it’s not poison.
- Mr Abdulmutallab used explosives hidden in his underwear: Quick, let’s hand-search all carry-on bags! (The logic kills me, even if the bombs don’t).
- Better, let’s ban carry-on bags, as Canada has done! That’ll really help! (Oh and no more camera use before landing – guess I took my last ever aerial shots recently. Oh and no more iPod use. Oh and no more navigation display.)
Let me help our authorities out a bit by suggesting some logical next steps:
- Mr Abdulmutallab used explosives in his underwear: So quick, ban all underwear! Commando-style only – and we will check!
- A recent Saudi attack where the bomber had the explosives up his anus: Quick, mandate rectal (and vaginal, for those of us who have one) searches for all!
Not so far-fetched: Amsterdam has already mandated that the “naked scanner” is now used on all US-bound travelers. How far are much expanded cavity searches? Let’s at least do them for all 500,000 people on that secret American watch list (the one that is so secret it is not even shared with the authorities). That’s a lot of cavities to inspect!
So OK. Is any of this contributing to security?
- Of course not. If someone is determined, they will find a way every time. Interrogating Greek grandmothers will not stop religious fundamentalists who are willing to kill themselves. It’ll be explosive fillings next, or explosive material wigs, or whatever.
- Of course not. Air travel is already very safe. The chance of being killed by a terrorist is many times smaller than being killed by a sandwich on a flight or by a drunk driver on your way to the airport.
- Of course not. 100 ml of liquids, but you can have at least five bottles of 100ml in your quart sized bag, and if there’s 5 terrorists that’s 2.5 liters of liquid.
- Of course not. No getting up for an hour before landing? This is a magical 60-minute period, somehow, and terrorists will be foiled? Or, having read the new rules, will they simply set off their bombs 65 minutes before landing?
- Of course not. Even in the unlikely case we can make air travel terrorist-free (by allowing buck naked, anesthetized passengers only), the Mohammed Attas will simply switch to attacking ships, bookstores, or McDonalds Restaurants.
The measures will give the terrorists what they want – in fact, it has already – by instilling a climate of fear and by showing cowardice – which Arab culture is very sensitive to. They won, we lost, as we cower ineffectively in the corner, trembling with fear.
It will also discourage travel. And I mean, really.Why do we want to subject ourselves to virtual strip searches, shouted militaristic commands, manual luggage checks, long lineups and limitations in carry-on?
Take me. When I traveled to Phoenix last month, I had this in my carry-on luggage:
- Canon 1D MkIII
- 24-70 2.8L
- 70-200 2.8L
- 16-35 2.8L
- 35mm f/1.4
- 50mm f/1.4
- Two speedlites
- Macbook Air
- and on my other shoulder, a Canon 1Ds MkIII
Total replacement cost of the above: Around C$27,000. And airlines want me now to check that? And if it is lost or damaged, their liability is $250, if I remember right? That’s not going to happen.
What we really need is an end to kneejerks and instead, to move to Israeli-type security. Having travelled there repeatedly, I can assure you that Israel’s security is effective, and the Israelis use two things we lack in our efforts. They use (a) intelligence, and (b) respect.
The Star gets it right, here [link]. A must read, and I agree with it entirely.
I am not holding my breath. And until the silliness is restricted, I just don’t fly.