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National security theatre

June 17, 2016 - 10:40 -- Admin

It’s probably a co-incidence that there has been a lot more advertising around the National Security Hotline since the election was called. You know the ones, the sober colours, formal fonts asking you to report anything suspicious to a free call number. The television and radio advertising (with the foreboding music and deep voice reading the message) give you the impression that all information is valuable and a team of experts will dissect every scrap of information given and act on it. The overwhelming implied message is that we live in dangerous times, the Government will protect you and if you do report something you have done your patriotic duty.
If you have had the misfortune to travel by plane in the past couple of decades, you would be aware of the security clearance process required before you get to the boarding gate at larger airports. While unloading your pockets (and occasionally finding a bit of change hiding at the bottom), taking your shoes and so on off is dehumanising; if you are really lucky you also get chosen for an explosive check where someone rubs a piece of cloth around pockets, zips and bag closures – puts it into a machine and a minute or so later the machine declares that there are no explosives on your person or bags. While the process is dehumanising and it adds to the stress of the travelling experience, at least there won’t be a ‘nutter’ on my plane with a knife or bomb – which is a relief.
Airport security practices and sealing of medicine containers are practices imported from the USA. The US requires foreign powers to implement the practices in respect to airports under the threat of banning flights from US airlines to the particular country and denying landing/overflight permission to foreign airlines from that country if they don’t comply.
The US airport security service is provided by the Transport Security Administration. Unlike Australia, the TSA is a US Government agency and is well known amongst travellers around the world for their militaristic demeanour. Australia’s airport security is contracted out, but as the clip below demonstrates, the method of operation is similar.

You may have noticed some references shown on screen during the clip – they link to the sources of the information for the statements made. The website is here should you like to read further. The television program Adam ruins Everything is shown on SBS2 in Australia.
We all know the way to get the ‘tamper-proof’ cap off a medicine bottle is to ask any child over the age of 4 or 5 to do it for you. When we struggle to get the caps or the silver seal off medicine bottles, we put up with it because we determine that it stops people getting into the medicine before the end user does and potentially keeps younger children from overdosing on the medicine.
Again Adam has done the research. The tamper-proof cap and seals appeared in the US after 1982 when some bottles of a pain relief tablet called Tylenol were interfered with resulting in seven deaths. This (US) Public Broadcasting Service article gives the history. The determination was that the packaging of the tablets needed to change to protect them from tampering.
Bruce Schneier was seen in the video clip above and also has an opinion on the rise of the tamper proof seals post the Tylenol tampering event
There wasn't any real risk, but people were scared. And this is how the tamper-proof drug industry was invented. Those tamper-proof caps, that came from this. It's complete security theater. As a homework assignment, think of 10 ways to get around it. I'll give you one, a syringe. But it made people feel better. It made their feeling of security more match the reality.
Yes, a degree of national security preparedness is required. Are we however shutting the door after the horse has bolted? Given that Australian authorities are more than happy to shout the results from the rooftops when they find a potential terrorist cell (although you rarely hear about any follow up action), I can’t recall any publicity about a potential threat to a plane being foiled by security screening. In addition, thousands more cram onto the public transport networks in our large cities every morning and afternoon with no overt security protocol (and sometimes without even checking if the ticket is valid for the journey), despite incidents involving commuter transport in other parts of the world.
Given there are holes in the screening of people so large you can drive a train through them (sorry), is there a better option? According to a number of the links suppled above, yes there is. While undoubtedly the National Security Hotline is part of the process and probably has led to the investigation of actual security risks; ramping up the advertising around the Hotline during an election campaign is pure theatre with ulterior motives that have nothing to do with how safe you feel next time you are out and about.

What do you think?

Let us know in comments below.

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