Dear Chief Secretary to the Treasury,
I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left.
Signed, Liam Byrne

(Outgoing Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury. May 2010)

Monday, 1 February 2010

A question of airport security

It was vaguely reassuring to read that Yates of the YardMet thinks that passenger profiling might be a good idea, his thoughts are reported thus (30th January 2010) :-
He agreed that an “elderly white woman dressed in middle-class garb” was unlikely to be a terrorist .....

Mr Yates called for searches [to spot suspicious individuals at airports and in other areas sensitive to attack] to be carried out using intelligence databases, and “sharp thinking” on the ground.

He said that suspicions should be aroused by an individual’s personal history and pattern of travel, how they bought their ticket, and their luggage.

The anti-terrorism chief continued: “At the same time, we must encourage police and security staff to use their experience, their street-craft - their ‘nous’. This means considering a range of factors - dress, body language, behaviour or simply something that’s ‘not quite right’.

“This puts the onus on our staff to be intelligent and to act with common sense."
This all seems eminently sensible.

It's reassuring to think that, should the quite elderly Mrs Rigby Senior decide to travel by air, she would probably not be subjected to the indignity of either a body search or a body scan - even if the bits of metal in her hip frighten the scanners.

Mrs R Sr is a nervous passenger, she always has been, and she's read about these scanning machines and the whole concept, frankly, terrifies her - she can't understand why anybody would imagine she might be a criminal, let alone a bomb-carrying terrorist.

Lord Adonis, however, doesn't seem to be quite as reassuring as Yates of the Yard, as outlined in his answer to a written question (dated 1st February 2010) :-
The requirement to deploy AIT machines at Heathrow and Manchester airports comes into effect today ... This will be followed by a nationwide roll-out of scanners in the coming months. These scanners are designed to give airport security staff a much better chance of detecting explosives or other potentially harmful items hidden on a passenger’s body.

..... The Code will require airports to undertake scanning sensitively, having regard to the rights of passengers.

..... In the immediate future, only a small proportion of airline passengers will be selected for scanning. If a passenger is selected for scanning, and declines, they will not be permitted to fly.

However, the Interim Code of Practice stipulates: “Passengers must not be selected on the basis of personal characteristics (i.e. on a basis that may constitute discrimination such as gender, age, race or ethnic origin)”.
His Lordship certainly does send out a mixed message, appearing to give equal weight to the "rights" of passengers and "discrimination" - presumably because anything else would be provocative to rightists of various sorts, but his concealed punchline says it all  -  if a passenger is selected for scanning, and declines, they will not be permitted to fly.

It would be good if Lord Adonis and the powers-that-be could explain this rule to an elderly British lady who lived through WW2 and who carried on going to work whilst all around her was destroyed, due to the Blitz.

This particular elderly person lost family members both in battle and as a result of indiscriminate bombing. She has managed to survive the IRA mainland bombing campaigns, having been told to 'carry on'. She has never knowingly, and certainly never deliberately, broken a law in her life.

It would be good if those with authority could properly explain to an elderly, and essentially very private, lady who has never let the more intimate parts of her body be seen by any person other than her husband or a member of the medical profession, and who has only ever been scanned or x-rayed due to medical need, that if she wants to be allowed to travel in an aeroplane she might be chosen, called out of a line of passengers, to stand in front of a machine that is capable of using technology to undress her, and - as she describes the process - so that somebody she can't herself see will be able to look at her 'naked body'.

Believe me Lord Adonis, I've tried to explain it, but for the life of me I can't - no matter how hard I try. It's even harder having read what they do at Israel's airports.
Israeli airport security, much of it invisible to the untrained eye, begins before passengers even enter the terminal. Officials constantly monitor behavior, alert to clues that may hint at danger: bulky clothing, say, or a nervous manner. Profilers -- that's what they're called -- make a point of interviewing travelers, sometimes at length. They probe, as one profiling supervisor told CBS, for ``anything out of the ordinary, anything that does not fit." Their questions can seem odd or intrusive, especially if your only previous experience with an airport interrogation was being asked whether you packed your bags yourself.
Why, oh why, does this country continue to imitate the worst, most draconian, practices that make individual people feel uncomfortable, disconcerted and worried.

It's almost as if 'they' want us to be afraid - but 'they' can't possible want that, because it would mean that the bad guys have won their battle.


418 said...

Mrs R: the bad guys won their battle long ago. Since 9/11 our society has been turned upside down. If I were Osama bin Laden I'd be very pleased with the result.

Mrs R said...

If he's still around he's probably wearing a big smile.