Security Theater: The Ripples Spread to Japan

A reader who has followed Japanese postal regulations conveys the latest security announcement. Short version: items weighing more than 1 pound can no longer be shipped to the U.S. by any means involving flight. The announcement, in Japanese, is here; a PDF of the details, also in Japanese, is here. The reader's interpretation is this:

>>Apparently the conditions for shipping packages via air to the United States have now become so restrictive that the Japanese Post Office has announced that, effective Nov. 17, it will no longer accept any packages weighing over a pound for shipment to the US by any method that involves air transport (including EMS, airmail, and SAL). Except for large corporate mailers, everything over a pound must apparently now come by sea. Asahi Shimbun is reporting that the Japanese equivalents of FedEx and UPS have followed suit. I assume that airmail service remains in effect for the remaining 200 countries across the globe that have not lost their collective minds.

I do read/speak Japanese and regularly use it in my work, but it was actually my Japanese-speaking wife who brought the news to my attention through her cries of anguish when she read the news: This effectively cuts off her supply of dry goods, books, and magazines; ruins Christmas for our daughter (at least from the Japanese side of the family); and means we'll not be getting any mochi for o-shougatsu. Having spent sixteen years in Japan (though currently living in the US), one of my basic guiding principles is that if your procedures are too burdensome even for the Japanese to bother complying with, you've probably gone a bit too far.

Between the new, "enhanced" TSA procedures and this story, I've lost any hope that our leaders know where to stop when it comes to reacting to terrorist threats.<<

Image of part of the PDF announcement is below (click for more detailed view), and after the jump some updates from Japanese news stories on the policy. Larger point: the only route toward perfect security is perfect lock-down and control. If we value freedoms or privacy, we must by definition accept something short of perfect security. I'll ask it again: Who among our political leaders is speaking up for weighing liberty in the balance? Or reminding us of the motto, "with liberty and justice for all," not "perfect security for all"? You newly powerful Tea Party people: cat got your tongue?

Bonus larger point: the damage done by terrorism, always and everywhere, is not the destruction it causes directly but the reaction it provokes.

More on Japanese reporting of the story, from the same reader:

>>I've attached PDFs of two news stories, one from Asahi and the other from Mainichi (Japanese newspaper links, as I'm sure you know, die very quickly; in fact, my wife can no longer find the Asahi article she was reading last night). The Mainichi story gives more detail, and I've provided a quick-and-dirty translation:

"Following a terrorist incident at the end of October in which bombs were planted in packages bound by air for Chicago, the U.S. government has notified airlines that it would be strengthening its requirements for shipment of packages by air. Due to a strong fear that shipments of packages would be limited, Japan Post Holdings' JP Post [learn something everyday: apparently what we think of as the Japanese Post Office is a subsidiary of Japan Post Holdings or 日本郵政グループ] announced on November 12 that it would suspend acceptance of some airmail packages bound for the United States. Private companies are taking similar steps, and confusion is likely to grow toward the end of the year as Christmas approaches.

"According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, the announcement was dated November 9. It limits the shipment of air cargo to the United States where either the items being shipped or the sender are unclear, and is expected to be in place for at least one month.

"As a rule, starting November 17, JP Post will suspend acceptance of all packages bound for the United States, including overseas territories such as Guam and Saipan, weighing 453 grams (16 ounces) or more. This is expected to affect approximately 200,000 packages per month, primarily from individual customers. However, JP Post will continue to accept packages regardless of weight in cases where it has confirmed the safety of the sender, such as packages from corporate customers that use JP Post's post-shipment payment system and have a history of doing business with JP Post. JP Post will also continue to handle packages shipped by methods other than air, such as sea mail, as usual.

"Among private firms, on November 11, Yamato Group's Yamato Logistics suspended acceptance of household goods for shipment by air to the United States. Other major private firms are under pressure to respond as well, and there is concern that this will lead to major disruptions in the flow of goods between the United States and Japan." <<
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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