Security Theater Cont: Choose Your Line

1) Just got through the screening line at San Diego airport, scene of the famous "don't touch my junk" showdown several days ago. Was prepared to opt-out of the new "enhanced" screening machines and get patted down. But as I got near the head of the line, I saw that it split in two. If you took the left fork, you went through the regular old metal detector. If you took the right, you had to raise you hands over your head, hold that position for ten seconds, and get the enhanced scan.

So I went to the left.

Someone tell me how this makes sense. It's so important to check every single passenger for every single thing he or she might be concealing under the clothes -- unless the passenger decides to take the left fork. I looked at the brand name of the enhanced scanner as I went by. I think it said "Maginot."

2) So many people have graciously sent me links to this that I felt as if I should pass on the mention: My old friends at NMA in Taiwan have a new video on "enhanced security." Check it out here or below. It's a complement to Jeff Goldberg's Canadian view of our security.

3) And, just to finish this off for the day, a note from reader William Vambenepe:

>>One more perspective on the new scanners. I opt out not because I'm prudish (I'm French, we have no modesty) but because I am a software engineer. There is a lot of software to control these machines, and it's mostly new code. Which means it has bugs. Many bugs.

Assuming the radiation level generated by the machines is safe (I have no expertise to judge one way or the other), that assumes normal operations. That's a big assumption.

In "normal" software, when there is a non-fatal bug it results in something looking strange to the user, or some incorrect transaction going through, which eventually might get caught. In these machines, unless the bug completely disables the machine, how can you tell there is problem? Your hair is not going to catch fire because the radiation level is 100 stronger than normal.

At the very least, it seems that these machines should have a fully-isolated (sharing no component with the scanner) radiation measuring device inside. I hope they do but I've never heard of that from people defending that they're safe. I've never heard them acknowledge the possibility of a software bug either, which is alarming.

Potentially dangerous machines controlleDby immature code overseen by poorly qualified operators within an organization with a culture of secrecy? No thanks.<<

OK, I will do my level best to get onto other topics (lots pending on coal), and "real" work, for the next while.

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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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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