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US Changes How Air Travelers Are Screened 260

Posted by kdawson
from the curtain-falling-on-security-theater dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Washington Post reports that the Obama administration is abandoning its policy of using nationality alone to determine which US-bound international air travelers should be subject to additional screening and will instead select passengers based on possible matches to intelligence information, including physical descriptions or a particular travel pattern. Under the new system, screeners will stop passengers for additional security if they match certain pieces of known intelligence. The system will be 'much more intel-based,' a senior administration official says, as opposed to brute force. For example if US intelligence authorities learned about a terrorism suspect from Asia who had recently traveled to the Middle East, and they knew the suspect's approximate age but not name or passport number, those fragments would be entered into a database, shared with commercial airline screeners abroad, and screeners would be instructed to look for people with those traits and to pull them aside for extra searches. Administration officials have said that, in hindsight, the central failure in the attempted bombing of an Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight on Christmas Day involved inadequate sharing of information." In other TSA-related news, CNN takes a look at the full-body scanners that are beginning to be deployed in the US and elsewhere, concluding that they are good at finding concealed drugs but haven't found much that could bring down an airplane. John Perry Barlow is quoted: "Every time technology makes another leap forward, we have to reclaim the Fourth Amendment, and often we have to reclaim the entire Bill of Rights, because technology gives [the authorities] powers that were not envisioned by the Founding Fathers."
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US Changes How Air Travelers Are Screened

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  • Random? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by thepike (1781582) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:15AM (#31706598)
    And here I was always told that I was "randomly chosen" for increased security screening.
  • Oh man (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Seriousity (1441391) <[Seriousity] [at] [live.com]> on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:16AM (#31706608)
    I'm pretty far away in New Zealand, but I look at your constitution and then I look at what your government is dong and I have true respect for those among you whose eyes are open and are fighting to reclaim the freedom you should be entitled to as an American. We don't have anything nearly as powerful to protect our freedoms in the rest of the world; fight to keep yours.
  • Racial profiling (Score:4, Insightful)

    by edwebdev (1304531) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:22AM (#31706662)
    "screeners will stop passengers for additional security if they match certain pieces of known intelligence" = carte blanche for profiling by race, religion, ethnicity, etc., especially when the pieces of intelligence are known only to the screeners.
  • So... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pushing-robot (1037830) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:23AM (#31706674)

    Basically, they're going to do what they've been depicted as doing in every movie and TV show for the last fifty years: ACTUAL DETECTIVE WORK. Crazy!

  • Re:Wait, what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ircmaxell (1117387) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:29AM (#31706736) Homepage
    Well, theoretically they could have a computer do the identification for them. When you give them your passport, it can scan the photo and correlate that to the database. Computers are half way decent at that sort of thing (so long as the photos are clean and from a fixed angle, such as a passport photo)... Not to mention that they already know your international travel history anyway (it's reported to them by the airline). So it's relatively easy for a computer to flag a passport in a matter of seconds...

    The issue that this doesn't address, is first time offenders. What happens when someone who doesn't raise any red flags goes through the system? He gets let right in with very little chance of screening (at least with random screening, his chances would be higher of being screened)...

    The point of 4th amendment rights does play big time, but as computers become more and more advanced, the numbers of "innocents" should go down. If you're flagged because of intel, well that's an educated risk. In all my time spent at airports lately (175k miles in the past 2 years), I've only been selected for screening once. In Vancouver. And all that meant, was that the security person looked in my bags, and swabbed down parts looking for residue... An inconvenience? Sure, but the illusion of security won't be going away any time soon... So what's the better (more accurate) alternative?
  • Re:Random? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by 0racle (667029) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:31AM (#31706762)
    Well, you being born not white is sort of random.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:33AM (#31706784)

    The Terrorists are often Brown People.

    Except when they're black like the Christmas bomber, or white like Jihad Jane.

    But don't let facts get in the way of your dreams.

  • by ircmaxell (1117387) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:33AM (#31706788) Homepage
    Yes. All non-Citizens and non-permanent residents get fingerprinted on entry and exit. Frankly, I don't see the point, but I don't mind either... If you have nothing to hide, then what's the problem with it? The system isn't going to change any time soon, so why make a fuss over it? While people still believe in the illusion of security and safety, it's just the way it will be... If you don't want to be subject to the checks, then don't come. It's not like they make you sit in a room for hours or days waiting to see if they will even let you in (Ellis Island)... But I don't think it's treating you like a criminal. Sure, many other countries don't do it, but how long do you think it'll be until they implement those kinds of checks for foreigners?
  • Re:Oh man (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:42AM (#31706868)

    We don't have anything nearly as powerful to protect our freedoms in the rest of the world; fight to keep yours.

    Yet ironically we don't seem to be as badly as the United States at the moment. I don't recall being treated like a criminal upon entering New Zealand, nor does any country in Europe. In fact the entry requirements for the United States are now so onerous I won't be going back until they relax: I don't just mean "relax the requirements", I mean the entire United States needs to collectively chill the fuck out.

  • by copponex (13876) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:44AM (#31706898) Homepage

    The Terrorists are often Brown People.

    And when the terrorists find a disaffected white nutcase who wants to go down in history as the world's biggest terrorist, he'll walk right by the line of PhD students who are being strip searched for having the wrong skin color.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:48AM (#31706952)

    except unabomber, oklahoma bomber, eco nuts, black panthers and other pure christian terrorists. but dont let facts get in the way of security theatre!

  • by Labcoat Samurai (1517479) on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:57AM (#31707044)
    Yes, well.... it may not be racist to "notice", but it could very well still be racist to draw various conclusions from that. Dennis Miller is smart enough to be vague and let his audience draw their own conclusions so he can plausibly deny charges of racism.
  • Re:Oh man (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hurricane78 (562437) <deleted@slashd o t .org> on Friday April 02, 2010 @10:59AM (#31707056)

    I don’t get it... how is a piece of paper powerful to keep freedom, that is already imaginary anyway?

    Remember that there always were constitution-like basic laws in countries. Even in germany before the Nazis.

    If there are no people with power to back it up, it’s worth nothing. But if there are those people, they can just as much back their wishes up without a piece of paper.

  • by pavon (30274) on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:00AM (#31707064)

    Noticing that half of all the terrorist attacks on US soil in the last two generations were performed by white people white isn't being racist, it's being minimally observant.

    All your statement tells us is that most of the individuals in a single terrorist attack were from the same country which is not insightful, it is fucking obvious.

  • by zach_the_lizard (1317619) on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:07AM (#31707140)
    And it'll happen despite a warning from the guy's father or other intelligence sources all because two intelligence agencies can't figure out the meaning of the word "sharing," Because of their blunder, we will have to submit to even more onerous restrictions that will probably have nothing to do with how the guy tried to kill people, and the people who failed in the intel community will get promotions and more responsibility.
  • Uh, no. If you read even the summary, that's the procedure they're moving away from.

    [T]he Obama administration is abandoning its policy of using nationality alone to determine which US-bound international air travelers should be subject to additional screening...

    They're actually now trying to correlate security screening with specific, known information about actual suspects, rather than saying, "So you're from Pakistan? Would you mind coming with me, sir?" The new policies will be far from perfect, I'm sure, but they seem more sensible than a "random" screening based solely on nationality.

    As to the body scanners, I have a hard time being bothered by this.

    Every time technology makes another leap forward, we have to reclaim the Fourth Amendment, and often we have to reclaim the entire Bill of Rights, because technology gives [the authorities] powers that were not envisioned by the Founding Fathers.

    Fair enough, but I think the founding fathers would also have had a difficult time envisioning several dozen unrelated people climbing into a flying metal tube to cross the ocean in a matter of hours. They also probably didn't foresee the rise of ideologies that make those flying tubes attractive targets for persons armed with concealable explosive devices. Saying that the Founding Fathers were poorly-versed in 21st century technology and geopolitics doesn't mean much by itself. I'm willing to bet the passengers on any of the airplanes that have been subject to terrorist attacks in the past few years would have been willing to undergo a full body scan if it meant the bad guy couldn't get on the plane with them. Full body scanners also don't care what country you're from, if that means anything.

  • Re:Oh man (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zach_the_lizard (1317619) on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:14AM (#31707232)
    The weakness of any constitution, be it American, French, Greek, or Japanese, is that it is merely a piece of paper. It does not contain within it the means of enforcing itself, and its interpretation is often left to the entity it is supposed to limit. The enforcement, then, is left to the people, but who is willing to engage in a violent strike on a government over minor injustices? Very few. As time goes on, these injustices become accepted as the way the world is, and more are added, with the result of a transformation over time that causes the end product to look very little like what it started as. Washington needed Congress to raise the militia and go to war; he had no standing army. The presidents of the nuclear age need no approval to launch a civilization ending nuclear attack, to engage in war in far away places that most Americans cannot find on a map.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:23AM (#31707300)

    If you have nothing to hide, then what's the problem with it?

    Oh boy, warning bells all over the place. If I've got nothing to hide, they've no business watching me. Or at least, shouldn't mind not watching me.

    But I don't think it's treating you like a criminal.

    Name one other context where the authorities take fingerprints. Hm? Kinda hard, isn't it? Or maybe your standards are just way too low for your own good.

    If you don't want to be subject to the checks, then don't come.

    If you don't want the tourism, then be that way. It's sad, because I really would like to see Colorado some day while I'm still young enough to hike. It's also sad because Americans in general cannot possibly be as insanely idiotic as the FAA regulators [and/or whoever dreams up those regulations, and approves them], but with the news being as they are, it's getting harder and harder to not generalise the wrong way.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:25AM (#31707328) Homepage

    Do it to everyone and it's "fair." Do it to a select few and it's harassment. It's not harassment when it's based on observation. Observation is ...? Well, how can it be done without invasion of privacy?

  • Re:Random? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:26AM (#31707344)

    See... that's probably a good thing. That seems like an "intel-based" search. That would be what we WANT to be using as search criteria... not just pulling out random 70-year old grandmothers.

  • Also, by "Oklahoma bomber" I assume you mean Timothy McVeigh, who was not a terrorist. He was a badly misguided revolutionary.

    Is there a difference?

    McVeigh and the Terrorists used the same actions to the same ends. Even if the reasons differed, the ends were the same. Therefore: If it quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck.

  • by MooseTick (895855) on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:52AM (#31707618) Homepage

    " just make the airlines responsible for their own security, then they could decide whether they want the scanners and what types of searches to preform"

    If this were to happen, I doubt most people would be ok with it if some airline decided to perform body cavity searches. And rather than vote with their $$, they would sue the airline for being unfair with their invasive security practices.

  • Re:Oh man (Score:2, Insightful)

    by operagost (62405) on Friday April 02, 2010 @11:54AM (#31707638) Homepage Journal
    It probably has something to do with the fact that the islamic world doesn't consider you "the Great Satan."
  • by WillDraven (760005) on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:00PM (#31707710) Homepage

    If they got their asses kicked they're terrorists.

    If they win and get to write the history books they're revolutionaries.

  • by dotfile (536191) on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:15PM (#31707888)
    "they are good at finding concealed drugs but haven't found much that could bring down an airplane."

    Wow. Could that possibly be because drug smuggling is not that uncommon, but shitheads actually attempting to bring down airliners really is? Seriously, in the last decade how many attempts HAVE there been, out of the hundreds of millions of passengers flying during that same period? How many hand grenades and Popiel pocket nukes [ronco.com] did they expect to find, anyway?

    "Security theater" beliefs aside, and I'm not saying there is not a lot of security theater that is senseless and ineffective, I can always say it would be easy to figure out how to do it - but if it actually were that easy I believe we'd have seen a lot more attempts. Some would probably have been successful. Instead we get dipshits trying to light fuses on shoes and underwear.
  • by DelShalDar (120367) on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:18PM (#31707916) Homepage

    And the Founding Fathers wouldn't have gone the "Let's trade our hard-won freedom for the empty promise of security!" route, either. They'd see those flying tin cans and say "How could a few men with small knives (or other blade-like instruments) take over an entire plane full of citizens when the citizens aboard should be more than capable of preventing such an attempt?" Then they would look at the way the general populace is being disarmed and say "This is exactly the opposite of what we intended!" when told that they could not carry their primary means of self-defense everywhere they went. They would look at how the people they did all of this for are giving everything they argued and fought so hard for away in order to feel safe, instead of actually being prepared and equipped to ensure that safety.

    The "they couldn't have known" and "they didn't foresee" defenses are just a way of ignoring the original intent and then claiming that "now" is so much more different from "then" and that dealing with what affects us "now" was never the intent to begin with. They had boats, those not-so-mythical things called pirates, terrorists, and invading armies back then, and they dealt with them as they encountered them. The only real differences between "now" and "then" is that we can travel between locations faster, we can communicate faster with people farther away, and we have the ability to know what of (in)significance is currently happening in places we never heard of before to people we'll likely never meet in person. Admittedly, the "killing people" thing may have become easier with newer technologies, but so has the "saving people" thing, and sometimes we use the exact same tool(s) to do both. Exactly none of this didn't exist back then in one form or another, but we (as a people) seem so intent on treating "now" in such a different manner as "then" because we can, and not because we must.

  • by plopez (54068) on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:37PM (#31708146) Journal

    Hmmm... let's see. The SLA in the 1970's. White as well as African-American. The 1st or 2nd largest gun battle between law enforcement and a terrorist organization. 2nd if you count David Koresh et. al. as terrorists.

    The KKK. They terrorized African-Americans, Catholics, and Jews since about 1870. Arayan nation and other affiliated groups also have terrorized those who do not agree with them or of different races. Oh yeah, you have to be of true white racial purity to join those groups.

    The Weather Underground. White, middle class, college educated, and terrorists.

    The Oklahoma City bombers.

    The Unibomber.

    The women's clinic bombers and doctor killers.

    At this point I am more frightened of the uber-radical wingnut neighbor with a gun collection and pent up frustration and rage, than I am of any "camel jockies" or "towel heads" (to use two of the more polite phrases Ive heard over the years).

    Charles Manson and friends. They wanted to start a race war, so it could be counted as terrorism. Oh yeah, all white.

    Get your facts straight.

  • by Entropius (188861) on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:45PM (#31708252)

    So, I was in Denver recently, and was in a HUGE collection of people at the security line. They had it routed back and forth, to the point where 1000 people were standing in an area maybe 30-40m on a side.

    If you want to blow yourself up, disrupt air travel, and kill a shitload of people, the security line's a better place to do it. (The lethal radius of a 20kg bomb is pretty big, as I understand it...) And I'm sure the analysts know this, and insist on huge security lines anyway -- because it's wonderful theater.

  • Re:Random? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:53PM (#31708310)

    Of all the plane hijackers in the last 20 years, how many were Middle-eastern males?

    How many plane hijackers destroyed targets on the ground vs quietly diverting the airplane to another field? How many attacks on US soil were by Middle eastern males vs white males (hint: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Domestic_terrorism_in_the_United_States [wikipedia.org] )

    Then put "almost all" your effort into checking middle-eastern males- that's where the threat is.

    Or, you could recognize that extremists of every ilk - muslim, christian, luddite, socialist, ALF, Right-to-Life - pose similar threat and it's not really just brown people, regardless of how much easier they are to spot.

  • by Un pobre guey (593801) on Friday April 02, 2010 @12:59PM (#31708374) Homepage
    You are committing the obvious mistakes of 1) being rational and fact-based, and 2) assuming that the purpose is in fact catching "terrorists." In practice, it is indeed security theater for the political arena and the driving forces are a) channeling huge amounts of public funds to the well-connected firms providing the goods and services for TSA, and b) the TSA's first priorities as a bureaucracy: survive and grow.
  • by ultranova (717540) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:11PM (#31708496)

    Bombing civilians is a heinous crime, but the ideology behind it is different.

    "My cause is just, therefore I may do anything, for ends justify the means."

    Sounds about the same to me. Al-Qaida, McVeigh, and torture supporters in the government and military are all the same, and the proper name for what they are is "scum".

  • by eggnoglatte (1047660) on Friday April 02, 2010 @01:31PM (#31708676)

    From Webster [merriam-webster.com]:

    Main Entry: terrorism
    Pronunciation: \ter-r-i-zm
    Function: noun
    Date: 1795
    : the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion

    You can call yourself a revolutionary if you go after military targets, but if you are deliberately launching attacks on civilian targets to affect change in government, then you are the very definition of a terrorist.

  • by jimicus (737525) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:18PM (#31709130)

    And when the terrorists find a disaffected white nutcase who wants to go down in history as the world's biggest terrorist, he'll walk right by the line of PhD students who are being strip searched for having the wrong skin color.

    The way you say this, anyone would think that the terrorist threats faced today are being organised by a very clever, very resourceful organisation that can do more or less whatever it wants.

    There is no fucking chance whatsoever this applies to Al Qaida. Frankly, if it was, we'd have seen far more attacks and they'd have been far more successful. As it stands, the US and the UK have had precisely one major co-ordinated, successful attack each. Here in the UK we've also had a handful of utterly pointless attacks (come on - what idiot decided that driving a car full of gas cylinders into an airport in Glasgow, of all places, would result in anything more than a heavy kick in the head and/or testicles?).

    If you want an example of what happens when you have a clever, resourceful terrorist organisation attacking you, look at the IRA in the 1970's/80's.

  • by Etrias (1121031) on Friday April 02, 2010 @02:52PM (#31709374)
    Setting aside your interpretation of the 2nd amendment, there are few worse things that I can think of than allowing untrained armed citizens aboard a commercial airliner. You have heard of decompression, right?

    Similarly, your thought that the "original intent" should be carried to the end of time argument wears thin. Pirates were often mercenaries of the state and terrorists were pirates. Any thought of an invading army of America makes me chuckle and think that someone's been watching Red Dawn once too often.

    Also, if you think then is not so different from now, just try to imagine what the founders would have thought of what we're doing right now on Slashdot. The internet would have blown their mind...and that's pretty commonplace today.

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