Harvey Moltoch is the author of Against Security: How We Go Wrong at Airports, Subways, and Other Sites of Ambiguous Danger (Princeton University Press, $35)
We all know the miseries of airport security, imposed some might say for our own good. But the hullabaloo of metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and "routine questions" likely accomplish little. Indeed, the enactment of security carries insecurity in its wake.
Isn't that the way, one might ask, that we catch those bad guys? No: the evil miscreants (few in number, but dangerous indeed) have been caught by non-security personnel and in the course of their routine work. It was the flight attendants who spotted Richard Reid trying to light his shoe bomb; with the aid of passengers he was bound up with seat belt extensions and headphone cords.
During the commandeered flight over Pennsylvania on September 11, the people on board fought the hijackers and heroically foiled their nefarious schemes on Washington. At least in the US, airport security has yielded no terrorists or even substantive charges of terror.
Meanwhile, everyone using the airlines must experience massive inconvenience, anxiety and risk of missing a flight. There are huge costs, like an annual $4 billion payroll for TSA workers alone plus all the gizmos, construction, and maintenance expenses. All to deal with the remote chance of finding a culprit.
The core trouble is that security operates as command and control without any larger vision of the ways people are actually made secure, much less the fact that there are always other considerations, like comfort and dignity, that should also apply.
However there are indeed alternatives, both at the airport and wherever else security regimens are put in place. In what follows, I list ten things wrong with the current set-ups and also, and here is the hopeful part, ways to make things better.