National security theatre

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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Comments (4) -

  • Ad astra

    6/17/2016 11:58:33 AM |

    You give us a sober account of the current state of our security. The events of this week in Orlando, and last night the public assassination of British MP Jo Cox, show how vulnerable we are in public places, where hate crimes and acts of terrorism occur. Authorities have limited ability to protect us, no matter how much they promote the effectiveness of their security arrangements.

    There was a long discussion this morning on ABC 774 radio about the contribution of social media to the genesis of hate. The discussants felt that the anonymity of writers in social media outlets allows expressions of hate that would not be permitted in other social circles. Hiding behind a nom de plume they can express sinister feelings towards public figures, yet not be accountable.

    On this blogsite we are often critical of the actions of public figures, particularly politicians, whose foibles, inconsistencies and untruths we expose. We do this as part of the democratic process, in the interests of fair play. That such criticism is necessary is a reflection of the parlous state of politics and political discourse in this country, where politicians, in the pursuit of power, misrepresent, distort, and blatantly lie about their intentions, their rationale and their actions.

    We live in a political system where some politicians, perhaps most, start out with a laudable intention to improve the conditions of our lives, but who succumb to the pressures within their parties, who resign themselves to fighting for themselves and their party rather than the common good. While some fight for a more equitable society, others see inequality as the norm. Some fight for ideologies that are anathema to others. Some have beliefs that are repugnant to others. It is inevitable then that conflict results, anger arises, tempers flare, and hateful and hurtful things are said and written.

    The artful use of polished, sophisticated, cultured, elegant political discourse is to make political points yet not evoke hate or hurt. It employs facts, reason, even humour to argue a point.

    On The Political Sword we engage robustly with the issues, but avoid the extremes in language, and are careful about the words we use and the rhetoric we employ. We avoiding expressing hate toward others, and avoid deliberately hurting others, no matter how much we disagree with their positions or their actions.

    In doing so, we lose nothing and gain respect.

  • Barry

    6/17/2016 1:04:29 PM |

    I've always been curious about this, when does a murder become an assassination? It seems to me there are even divides in society about illegal killings, a pleb is murdered while one of the so called "elites" are assassinated. Slightly off topic I know and yes I agree with the article. The world has gone bonkers.

  • Ad astra

    6/17/2016 3:05:57 PM |

    Thank you for your comment and welcome to The Political Sword. Do come again.

    I used the term ‘assassination’ because Jo Cox was a public figure, but your comment drove me to Wikipedia to check out its proper meaning. Wikipedia carries this definition: “Assassination is the deliberate killing of a person, often (but not always) a political leader or ruler, usually for political reasons or payment.” I see some media accounts of her death use the term ‘assassination’. Ms Cox was a person well known for her strong feelings of concern for, and empathy towards asylum seekers.

    There is a forceful editorial in the UK edition of The Guardian that you may care to read:

    As Ms Cox’s death occurred in the context of the large number of asylum seekers arriving in Britain, and near the end of the Brexit debate, the editorial concludes with these poignant words:

    One might have still hoped, however, that even merchants of post-truth politics might hold back from the sort of entirely post-moral politics that is involved in taking the great humanitarian crisis of our time, and then whipping up hostility to the victims as a means of chivvying voters into turning their backs on the world.

    The idealism of Ms Cox was the very antithesis of such brutal cynicism. Honour her memory. Because the values and the commitment that she embodied are all that we have to keep barbarism at bay.”

  • Ad astra

    6/17/2016 3:34:20 PM |

    Further on the theme of selecting the right descriptive words and carefully labeling events, Bernard Keane has a fine article in Crikey about the death of Jo Cox, which includes these words:”There is a definite politics of labelling at work in all this, because the way we name things is critical to how we frame events and the narratives that ensue. Like those forms of magic in which knowing the “real name” of an object or animal could bestow power over it, labelling is about control.”

    You may care to read it if you have access to Crikey.

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