Enhanced Security

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James Hanley

James Hanley is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.

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16 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    Funny James though I admit I cringed a little given your avoidance as to the purpose of this process.

    Re our ongoing debate on this subject:

    This TSA blog post notes that the initial cost per passenger is about $1/pass. If this is accurate and is a core part of the screening process used by TSA, it appears any significant efficacy of this process is affordable. I would argue they should collect revenues as on fee on airplane tickets so taxpayers aren’t directly funding it but instead air traveler consumers. I found one article noting that some European countries aren’t fans of these scanners because they believe it’s cheaper to do 100% pat-downs which I believe heads in a privacy direction you’d prefer avoiding.

    The second of three important factors is the efficacy of the process itself, the central part of my objecting to your advocating against such measure prior to knowing. I couldn’t find such data, only claims by the TSA that it works and claims by critics (using anecdotes) that it doesn’t. Not surprisingly I was not able to find an efficacy/defect rate which I assume is classified though it would have been nice if the relevant Wikipedia articles would have at least noted such rather than avoid the topic altogether. I was surprised at how few Google hits I got back using various keywords. As I’ve repeatedly asserted, without knowing this information it’s difficult if not impossible to judge the wisdom of adding this screening process.

    The third factor remains competing alternative processes, which would be evaluated to both complement or supplant this type of containment screening process. Again, without knowing the efficacy/defect rates it’s impossible to evaluate this process.Report

  2. Avatar Kolohe says:

    I would argue they should collect revenues as on fee on airplane tickets so taxpayers aren’t directly funding it but instead air traveler consumers

    Maybe I’m misreading your subjunctive form and you already know this, but that’s exactly what they do . They also charge the airlines directly because the TSA said the passenger fees were not enough. And apparently overcharged them, as there’s something on the later site that talks about a refund from a court ruling this past summer.

    (Note also that the passenger fee is for each ‘enplanement’ – meaning on the typical two-leg, one-way trip due to the hub and spoke arrangement, one pays the fee *twice* even though one goes through the security gate only once.)Report

  3. Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

    the TSA’s enhanced security pat-downs.

    Referred to in some circles as “grope downs.” Very nearly had my daughter cancel her trip home for Thanksgiving.Report

  4. Avatar T. Greer says:

    @Mcichael Heath-

    The GAO tested the efficacy of the new procedures back in May but the results of that report remain classified.

    The efficacy of the scanners is put into question by their history in Hamburg airports, where folds, pleats, and creases in passenger clothing screwed the machines over.Report

    • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to T. Greer says:

      T. Greer,

      Thanks for validating the process performance is classified.

      T. Greer stated:

      The efficacy of the scanners is put into question by their history in Hamburg airports, where folds, pleats, and creases in passenger clothing screwed the machines over.

      I would expect any new technology and attendant process to start out with a high defect rate, with process improvements and cost reductions as the technology and process matures. E.g., design enhancements, process work-arounds added as limitations are understood.Report

  5. Avatar James Hanley says:

    Michael,

    From my perspective you’re still minimizing the violation of liberty aspect of this whole deal–both the scanners and the enhanced pat downs.

    Simply put, I’d rather take my chances without either of those things. Anyone who takes a serious look at the odds of being killed by a terrorist would probably stop worrying, and certainly could hardly see having their nude body photographed or having themselves roughly groped as a good price to pay for a minuscule increase in safety. You keep harping on how these approaches really could improve our safety, but you seem to be ignoring the astounding infrequency of attempted terrorist attacks on planes, given the number of passenger flights per day. The risks are already so small that substantial gains really aren’t available, and certainly aren’t worth–in my not even remotely humble opinion–the further erosion in civil liberties.

    I’m sorry if on this particular case I sound angry and come close to treating you like I often treat one notable person at Ed’s blog, but it just looks to me like you’re saying, “the police state doesn’t cost much money, so it’s a good thing.” I wouldn’t really care if the goddam machines and their use actually was totally free from a financial and time perspective. Perhaps you give no value to your dignity, but I do value mine, and that of my daughters.Report

  6. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    James Hanley wrote:

    From my perspective you’re still minimizing the violation of liberty aspect of this whole deal–both the scanners and the enhanced pat downs.

    I don’t think I am; instead I think you’re not putting your criticisms within the context that our federal government is under enormous political pressures to stop all terrorist attempts. So we both think the other is missing a key factor in determining one’s position.

    James wrote:

    Anyone who takes a serious look at the odds of being killed by a terrorist would probably stop worrying, and certainly could hardly see having their nude body photographed or having themselves roughly groped as a good price to pay for a minuscule increase in safety.

    And I think this is where my manufacturing background provides me an advantage to enhance your perspective where I’ve seen no evidence you’re there yet. I’m perfectly cognizant of the remote odds and have always argued on this point within that context. But I’m also perfectly cognizant of the ramifications of approaching a zero defect level which is what the American public almost monolithically demands along with the enormously disproportionate effects of a successful terrorist attack on our economy, foreign relations, and political climate. I don’t think your arguments take this pressure into account as much as it should when weighing the costs and benefits.

    We both know that if three thousand more people died from a current societal affliction: car accidents, cigarette smoking, cancer; there’d be little affect on a national scale like a successful terrorist attack. We both know the odds of dying from certain causes and where terrorism is on that list. We both know therefore that the public’s demand isn’t completely rational, that we are overreacting to this threat in some ways though I’m not willing to concede scanners is an overreaction – not even close*. That’s partly because I am willing to subscribe to the fact though that twelve people dead from one terrorist attack on U.S. soil is worth a disproportionate response than much more than twelve people dead in car accidents over the holiday weekend than last year. Partly because success breeds more attempts and more recruits while a blip in car accidents is most likely a result well within what we expect and accept.

    Terrorism is a consistently successful tactic because the reaction is so much more disproportionate than the harm. However I’m also concerned that such success in this world will breed more capabilities to do far worse, where our government has an obligation to consider that and create systemic initiatives to avoid that being our future reality – mostly from reducing the demand for terrorism which frustratingly gets little to no public support, but also with containment measures like screening passengers and luggage on flights within our jurisdiction.

    While I made my position clear early in this exchange (passively OK with scanners and pat-downs), my arguments have not been primarily supportive of that; instead I’ve been arguing that your argument is defective. Defective because you continue to ignore the near-monolithic public demand on our government to reduce the threat of a successful terrorist attack. I only wish the demand were more heavily on reducing demand for terrorism but that is not our reality as you well know. I think we must consider this obligation and yes, as you point out the infringement on our rights as well. I think you fail by making your argument when you avoid considering public demand that the Bush and now Obama Administration has as its framework.

    I don’t have a problem with the scanners because my background has me pretty confident they are or will soon be an effective containment tool though of course not remotely capable of approaching zero defects (I’m guessing they take it from around a hundred thousand defects per million to tens of thousands of defects per million). I do have a problem with some of the pat-down stories, not all of them, but some of them. I’m also cognizant that no process like this was ever initially defect-free in terms of how it handles the people who are forced to submit to it, there are growing pains. First because it’s a human operation which always yield high defects and second the scope and volume of inspectors is so widely dispersed and high. So I’m taking a dispassionate approach about it confident that we will see modifications to the pat-down process to reduce the parts many people find objectionable (though not me). In fact I bet there’s engineers out there trying to figure out a method to do a secondary scan which doesn’t require any physical contact.

    James:

    I’m sorry if on this particular case I sound angry and come close to treating you like I often treat one notable person at Ed’s blog, but it just looks to me like you’re saying, “the police state doesn’t cost much money, so it’s a good thing.”

    I’m not offended by your response. I do think your anger is clouding your judgment. We’re coming at this from two different perspectives, your’s is the classic libertarian argument, mine is the pragmatic “sell-out” argument.

    I love libertarian arguments because they help test whether a policy proposal is really a road we want to go down, they set a standard which is sometimes realistic and should be considered in the end result and sometimes utopian to a fault. I appreciate your arguments on one aspect; my position as I’ve stated several times is not confidently held. Yes I’ve come down in support of the feds, but would better appreciate more information. I got some today on the financial cost, so now I know two of the four factors I originally asked for: financial cost and the current cost to our liberty rights (which I always knew). The two missing factors are the marginal differences with and without this process and then compare that marginal defect rate improvement to competing processes like that which Israel does or other discovered ‘best practices’. The former I think I can guess on pretty well given my manufacturing background which puts three factors in favor of doing it, the latter (benchmarking) is one I would love to see some good articles analyzing. I’m guessing the end game out of all this when the technology matures will eventually be a remote scan which is done without our active involvement, e.g., walking through a hallway with other passengers where the scanning equipment is fairly unobtrusive and we’re not singled-out during the process (assuming we pass).

    That of course fails your liberty test, but not mine and I’m guessing not the vast majority of Americans. I also see little chance of successfully arguing your individual right to avoid inspection. That’s because I perceive the majority’s collective right to significantly filter out possible terrorists and dangerous materials through this screening process vastly supersedes the violation of your right (in a court, that still provides the legislative branch as a matter of recourse).

    James:

    Perhaps you give no value to your dignity, but I do value mine, and that of my daughters.

    Now come on James, this is an example of how your anger is not helping your position. Of course I value my dignity and that of my family and your’s as well for that matter. As I told you the other evening my wife the normally ardent privacy advocate told me she’d accept going through such an experience as a price to pay for our security. I would as well. We do not perceive this as an attack on our dignity much more than getting poked and prodded by a nurse and a doctor. I do not mean to minimize this, I realize others don’t feel like we do and I am trying to determine if their responses are legitimate or not. I do think at this point people can be and should be capable of preparing themselves for one of these in advance and can handle it with dignity even if the inspector does not. Therefore I think once these outliers get reported and people have time to perceive what’s going-on, there’ll be far more prepared to have it done on them. That perception is going at hyper-speed given the nightly news is showing these pat-downs relentlessly.

    I am concerned you’ve taken a few anecdotes out of many transactions and extended the damage farther than it actually is where I think this specific process can become less obstrusive as the technology and process mature. Just like we talked about how low the threat of being a casualty from a terrorist attack, what are the odd of being mentally incapable of handling such a pat-down if one is prepared for such and realizes others have made it through with no mental anguish? I’m guessing very low and that we can adapt this process to reduce that much further, again this is a new process so course there will be bugs (while fully cognizant the loss of privacy still exists even after process improvements). Seriously, you don’t think you could prepare your kids for this just like how you have to when they go to a doctor? I get that you don’t want to, but again, I think one must argue that in light of public demand for no planes going down by terrorists.

    *And a second irrational public demand is for zero defects (terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, they seem oblivious even to American casualties when they’re off our shore). I’m confident they’re clueless regarding the enormous price both financially and to our rights to approach zero.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Michael Heath says:

      I think you’re not putting your criticisms within the context that our federal government is under enormous political pressures to stop all terrorist attempts.

      Oh, balls, do you really think I’m missing that point? My argument is that the sincere attempt to stop all terrorist attacks wouldn’t justify these procedures, both because we actually can’t stop all terrorist attacks, so that using that attempt as justification involves a falsehood, and because I’m not persuaded the loss of liberty and dignity would be worthwhile even if we could stop all terrorist attacks, in part because the frequency of such attacks is already extremely low so the gains would be minimal and the dignity costs great.

      But even more, using the pressure government is under as a justification is to say that our liberty and dignity should be sacrificed to government’s need to appear active and effective. Balls to that. Simply put, fuck the American public anytime it’s willing to sacrifice all human dignity in exchange for the most minuscule increase in security. I know damn well you don’t normally that “the public wants it, so we should accept it,” so I’m simply boggled that you’re resorting to some such argument in this case. You know exactly where that argument goes, and you really don’t want to open that door.

      In addition to standing up against our government when it oversteps its proper limits, its also important to stand up against our fellow citizens when they encourage government to overstep its limits or passively acquiesce in that overstep.

      I don’t have a problem with the scanners because my background has me pretty confident they are or will soon be an effective containment tool

      In case I haven’t made it clear, this is precisely where I think you’ve gone completely off the rails. You’re interested primarily in whether they’re effective, and despite your protestations to the contrary, you’re not really giving the civil liberties element any weight in your decision-making. You make mildly sympathetic noises about that, and then revert to, “but they’ll be effective, so that’s what I’m basing my decision on.” I simply cannot get on board with that.

      this is an example of how your anger is not helping your position. Of course I value my dignity and that of my family and your’s as well for that matter. A

      Sorry, Michael, I don’t think there’s anything particularly honorable about avoiding anger for the sake of avoiding anger. Don’t effing tell me you value my daughters’ dignity while you’re arguing for the right of the government to photograph their naked bodies or grab their crotches.

      I do think at this point people can be and should be capable of preparing themselves for one of these in advance and can handle it with dignity even if the inspector does not.

      Talk about missing the point, and I mean wildly off-target. Almost anything can be handled with dignity, but the subject’s ability to deal with indignities in a dignified manner has zero–absolutely not one iota of–bearing on whether they ought to have to be subjected to that indignity. Some prisoners-of-war handled their imprisonment with great dignity. Some people have been falsely accused of rape and handled it with great dignity. Some people have had their children killed by drunk drivers and handled it with great dignity. They deserve all admiration for being able to handle such things with greater dignity than I could, but their ability to do so does not and cannot justify what happened to them. In fact the role the subject’s dignity plays is to highlight just how revolting and vulgar are those who harmed them. It doesn’t escape my notice here that you are putting the burden of proper behavior on the citizen, and not on the government.

      I’ll answer your “decreases in defect rate” argument in a regular post. But let me just conclude by saying that you have utterly failed to persuade me that you’re taking the civil liberties argument seriously.Report

      • Avatar Michael Heath in reply to James Hanley says:

        James Hanley stated:

        Simply put, fuck the American public anytime it’s willing to sacrifice all human dignity in exchange for the most minuscule increase in security.

        “All human dignity” – do you realize how your argument has descended into almost complete reliance on rhetorical fallacies? As I’ve stated previously, I don’t believe your dignity is at all at threatened and any rare occurrences where it currently is threatened are results we can significantly decrease as this process matures, mostly by getting people educated on it but also with increased training and process improvements.

        Your “minuscule increase in security” is an empirical claim. From my perspective that measure is classified, so I’m not sure how you can buttress your argument by this very shaky assertion. As I’ve stated previously, my speculation has me thinking the marginal increase is both significant and provides a technological roadmap that will provide significant future improvements.

        James Hanley:

        I know damn well you don’t normally that “the public wants it, so we should accept it,” so I’m simply boggled that you’re resorting to some such argument in this case. You know exactly where that argument goes, and you really don’t want to open that door.

        I didn’t communicate the point you respond to here very well at all – my apologies. As you and I both know, there are times when a majoritarian right supersedes an individual right and when rights are limited due to some properly exercised government power. I’m convinced the government has numerated powers to create this process and that the majoritarian right for the government to use these powers like this in an attempt to keep them safe are enormously greater than the individual right to avoid going through such inspection. Therefore I think court challenges should favor the government, i.e., they have properly exercised their powers. I also think the legislature can limit/prohibit the executive’s use of this power to defend the minority’s rights in this case, i.e., take your side on this matter.

        Most of my argument and thinking on this matter is not whether the government has this power, I think that question is easily answered, “yes”. Instead it’s been on whether it’s wise for the government to establish a rigorous screening of passenger and materials and whether this process is a successful containment/screening measure. My answer to both of these answers is strongly yes on the first and a qualified tenuous yes on the latter given the lack of data to provide confidence in its efficacy – though again I speculate it probably drops the DPM rate tens of thousands and provides a roadmap to get it much below that.

        James Hanley:

        You’re interested primarily in whether they’re effective, and despite your protestations to the contrary, you’re not really giving the civil liberties element any weight in your decision-making. You make mildly sympathetic noises about that, and then revert to, “but they’ll be effective, so that’s what I’m basing my decision on.” I simply cannot get on board with that.

        And that’s fine, we have a honest disagreement on your conclusion though I certainly disagree with you that I’m not sensitive enough loss of rights when we employ such processes. I think I have given that its proper consideration. I also find the loss privacy of the body imaging screen and the few examples of patdowns unconvincing that should be a primary reason we end this screening process – I argue this as a matter of policy when I weigh lives and the other costs of successful terrorist acts relative to what I find is a minor loss of privacy and a minor hassle.

        I stated previously:

        Of course I value my dignity and that of my family and your’s as well for that matter.

        James responded:

        I don’t think there’s anything particularly honorable about avoiding anger for the sake of avoiding anger. Don’t effing tell me you value my daughters’ dignity while you’re arguing for the right of the government to photograph their naked bodies or grab their crotches.

        Your argument is equivalent to how some men refuse[d] for their family’s female members to get medical care . I think a female’s sensitivity towards this issue should be no different than that of a male. In this case we all pay what is to me a miniscule price to greatly reduce the threat you and your family will be killed on that plane if an attempt was made on it. In fact I think the roadmap for this process will eventually cause terrorists to eventually give up on blowing-up planes which they’re on or with materials they get on as checked luggage. So yes, I think the current outcries about the screens and to the rare few, pat-downs, are mere growing pains introducing this technology – I think dispassion is warranted given people are bellowing about sensitivities when lives are at stake and our way of life when terrorists are successful. And yes, of course I’m considering Franklin’s famous saying when I make this conclusion and the stats of a terrorist event.

        James Hanley:

        Almost anything can be handled with dignity, but the subject’s ability to deal with indignities in a dignified manner has zero–absolutely not one iota of–bearing on whether they ought to have to be subjected to that indignity. Some prisoners-of-war handled their imprisonment with great dignity. Some people have been falsely accused of rape and handled it with great dignity. Some people have had their children killed by drunk drivers and handled it with great dignity. They deserve all admiration for being able to handle such things with greater dignity than I could, but their ability to do so does not and cannot justify what happened to them. In fact the role the subject’s dignity plays is to highlight just how revolting and vulgar are those who harmed them. It doesn’t escape my notice here that you are putting the burden of proper behavior on the citizen, and not on the government.

        And again, I don’t think this process produces a lose of dignity for all but a rare few where I think as our more sensitive types get exposed to the process, they’ll be able to handle it and where I’m confident such complaints should result in improvements to this very immature process.

        James Hanley:

        I’ll answer your “decreases in defect rate” argument in a regular post. But let me just conclude by saying that you have utterly failed to persuade me that you’re taking the civil liberties argument seriously.

        Which is why I mentioned your anger. I’m not sure you have the proper state of mind to properly analyze this issue. James – I’m not convinced I’m on the right of this issue; hell – I’ve repeatedly noted my position is tenuous where I’d like that data on the current capabilities, future, and competing alternatives. I am convinced we need to screen passengers and materials that get boarded on planes. I’ve been responding here mostly to get you back on solid analytic ground, not switch you to a side I don’t even strongly hold. For me at least the quality of your argument on this matter is a deterrant from my taking your position, not an attractant. My effort has been to try and insure a proper framing for an analysis, which you’ve rejected as you embrace your anger. I’m not trying to be patronizing here, merely helpful, I’m extremely confident I’ve done the same in the past.Report

  7. Avatar D. C. Sessions says:

    Michael, I’m also in manufacturing — and there is an absolute ceiling on the benefit to be derived from a screening procedure: the number of defects of the sort it screens for.

    If James is ignoring your argument, you’re ignoring mine: that the invasive security theater that we’re paying for is not designed to detect the attacks which a halfway competent will use. Full stop: you’ve lost the battle before you encounter the threat. Observe that of the two (!) attacks which are being used to justify this boondoggle, scanning and grope downs would at most have caught one, and even granting that one requires a serious leap of faith.

    Look at the “success stories” that TSA is claiming and you get an idea of how desperate they are to find a threat. Meanwhile they’re not even looking for thermite [1], to name only one pathetically obvious attack.

    [1] Well, OK — they can’t. Pretty near impossible. Which tells you a lot about the real threat level.Report

  8. Avatar Michael Heath says:

    D.C. Sessions:

    I’m also in manufacturing — and there is an absolute ceiling on the benefit to be derived from a screening procedure: the number of defects of the sort it screens for.

    Which I’ve repeatedly noted in the thread at Ed’s blog where we had this discussion and here as well. I even argued I bet this is no better than a DPM rate of tens of thousands.

    D.C. Session:

    If James is ignoring your argument, you’re ignoring mine: that the invasive security theater that we’re paying for is not designed to detect the attacks which a halfway competent will use.

    As I’ve repeatedly noted I see this as an initial effort using emergent technology which will become more capable. In addition you’ve narrowed the process to the scanner only when there are other containment processes which are attendant to it since certain profiling characteristics should cause a pat-down that also serves a filter to catch materials current technology is incapable of correctly perceiving (though I’m guessing there are also additional processes to kick-in further screening for certain shapes even if the nature of the material doesn’t cause an alarm).

    D.C. Sessions:

    Full stop: you’ve lost the battle before you encounter the threat. Observe that of the two (!) attacks which are being used to justify this boondoggle, scanning and grope downs would at most have caught one, and even granting that one requires a serious leap of faith.

    I do not agree the two attacks are the only justification; I’ve been hearing about this for years now. This appears to be a strategic decision, not a tactical reaction. I also do not believe these two efforts contain the full suite of terrorist groups and materials we believe are a threat or could become one in the future. I’m very confident the feds also perceive the threat they need to contain far more broadly than you do here. In fact I’d argue your position here is a pretty absurd strawman of the context used to make such a decision. If this was based merely on your two examples, than Sarah Palin has already won.

    In addition, I find faith a defect in one’s character; I’m instead looking at this purely as a math formula which I’ve repeatedly noted, a formula which is missing two factors. Both of those factors being classified though my experience in manufacturing allows me to at least roughly speculate on the efficacy of the screening process while I’m totally ignorant on the efficacy of competing processes.

    Re your last point about thermite. As I’ve also repeatedly noted, containment measures merely address symptoms. They are in no way a permanent corrective action where no should convince themselves that you can solve defects with mere containment measures. Primary focus should instead be addressing the eradication of defects being created; in this case reducing the demand to become a terrorist which will probably never reach zero and therefore the need for systemic containment measures. I have encountered a wide range of results when it comes to screens, human-screens are almost always subpar to what one can do with machines. I’m not going to measure success or failure as you claim at this point without knowing the actual efficacy rates and the technology roadmap and process improvement plans to achieving reductions in that defect rate. To reject this process without knowing those two factors, well . . . that might take faith.Report

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