On refusing to be terrorized

When it comes to security, I’m firmly in Bruce Schneier’s “refuse to be terrorized” camp. I’m sick of the “we must do something” panic reaction that follows even minimal terrorist threats, and the security theatre it leads to. It’s not about the inconvenience it causes me and other passengers; it’s not even about the ridiculous costs that have to be borne by companies and taxpayers in order to implement measures that will do nothing to prevent a determined terrorist carrying out a attack — all they have to do, after all, is change their target.

Bruce Schneier:

It’s magical thinking: If we defend against what the terrorists did last time, we’ll somehow defend against what they do next time. Of course this doesn’t work. We take away guns and bombs, so the terrorists use box cutters. We take away box cutters and corkscrews, and the terrorists hide explosives in their shoes. We screen shoes, they use liquids. We limit liquids, they sew PETN into their underwear. We implement full-body scanners, and they’re going to do something else. This is a stupid game; we should stop playing it.

Edward Hasbrouck:

What’s most striking about the government’s response to this unsuccessful bombing attempt is the complete lack of any rational relationship between the actions that have been taken and are being proposed, any analysis of which of these and similar tactics did or did not contribute to the success or failure of the Christmas Day attack on Northwest Airlines flight 253, and any likelihood that they would make future attempts at terrorism less likely to succeed.

No, what bothers me is the fact that distorting public policy, removing individual liberties, and instituting a culture of irrationality and fear is exactly what the terrorists wanted in the first place.

Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show’s viewership.

So what can I personally do to refuse to be terrorized? Unfortunately, airlines and airports have a monopoly on air travel, and national governments have a monopoly on border control, so I can’t refuse to play the security game whenever I go abroad. I would if I could, because personally I feel more at risk from the security measures than I do from terrorist action. The risk of being subject of an attempted terrorist attack (much less a sucessful one) is, after all, less than being struck by lightning.

For one thing, I can help point out when people take the right approach. For example, The Register:

First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners.

Second: This does not matter. There is no need for greater efforts on security.

Third: A terrorist set fire to his own trousers, suffering eyewateringly painful burns to what Australian cricket commentators sometimes refer to as the “groinal area”, and nobody seems to be laughing. What’s wrong with us?

I can also call bullshit on articles like this one on Travolution in which a tiny, poorly worded sidebar poll on a travel industry blog gets blown up to represent that a majority of all travellers are in favour of body scanners that would not have flagged the completely pants bomber in the first place.

But ranting about this stuff on my blog reminds me of the depressing inevitability of the war in Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003. No matter how much we, the people, protested — and the lead-up to the war we saw the biggest anti-war protests in history — our governments still went blithely ahead. I may have high hopes for the decade ahead, but an end to the ridiculous security theatre that plagues us is beyond even my wildest dreams.