Follow-up to my TSA posting

Yesterday I ended up having a spiky exchange with a TSA agent who treated me in a pompous and dickish manner. There was no need for her to have behaved that way, it is actually quite easy to not be a dick. However, I remain fairly convinced that the entire paranoia-based training ethos of groups like the TSA, coupled with the need to hire people who will show that they can be unvarying enforcers of petty regulations, is very likely to result in those hired people determining that being a dick is actually OK, and might even be required.
Dickish behavior aside, my main frustration with the sudden confiscation of my toothpaste was that I was being treated to a prima facie example of totally inconsistent application of rules. For the last 3 months I have been shuttling backwards and forwards most weeks to Kentucky via DFW, and for nearly all of those trips, I came through the same outbound gate at DFW. I was carrying an identical tube of the same brand of toothpaste all of that time (with varying amounts of toothpaste in it), and yet not once was I stopped and informed that this was a breach of the rules. Not in DFW, not in Louisville KY.
Of course, the sudden change in the level of enforcement might have had something to do with the fact that there was a completely different crew of TSA people at that gate on Sunday, a crew who clearly had a far more humorless and censorious approach to enforcement. I was brusquely told that I could not put my shoes in the same container as my toiletries, and when I asked why, I was informed “new rules last week”, in a tone of voice that suggested that it probably would have sounded a whole lot better in the original German.
and lo and behold, when sat down in the regional jet en route to Louisville, I was informed in similarly brusque terms that I could not put my laptop on my lap for takeoff. It had to be “stowed”. By this time I had had quite enough of petty officialdom, and having swapped seats, I told the flight attendant “you give me my bag, I will stow it”. I then ended up being told that my stowing the bag next to me on the floor was insufficient, and it had to be under the seat in front. So I jammed it under the seat in front.
All the time this was happening, with the plane taxiing, the woman across the aisle was talking to somebody on her cellphone…and she continued to talk to the other person until the plane was several hundred feet in the air.
My respect for authority is formed on the basis of equitable enforcement of sensible rules, by people who don’t behave like dicks. Respect is not given, it is earned.
None of the groups of authority figures that I interacted with on Sunday at D/FW airport did anything to cause me to respect their actions. They were attempting to enforce arbitrary and non-sensible rules (strike 1), hopelessly inconsistently (strike 2) and were being dickish about it (strike 3).
All of this is part of the charade that Bruce Schneier memorably termed “security theater”, an expensive, time-consuming and irksome game of charades designed to create the illusion of order and safety, while assuring neither. Schneier’s essay is as applicable now as it was when he wrote it in 2009.


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