Security Has to Make Sense

Perhaps the worst thing about the post-Sept. 11 environment is the abandonment of cost-benefit analysis, or any analysis at all, in the rush to prove that one has taken every possible precaution.

Perhaps the worst thing about the post-Sept. 11 environment is the abandonment of cost-benefit analysis, or any analysis at all, in the rush to prove that one has taken every possible precaution. The result reminds me of descriptions of the Prohibition era: The rules become the problem, and people begin to sneer at both the rules and at those who bother to obey them.

At Los Angeles airport, for example, private cars were barred—unless they carried "handicapped" placards. This is a case of reasoning in only one direction: "We have to ban cars! Make people use shuttle buses!" "But what about people in wheelchairs?" "OK, let the handicapped cars come in."

Reasoning backward, one realizes that stealing a handicapped placard is so easy that this modified measure accomplishes practically nothing. Security measures have to be more robust to hold peoples respect.

Reasoning in just one direction is also a good way to lose at chess: "Ill move here, then hell move there, then Ill have him." One easily forgets that the opponent is not participating in your plan, but making and pursuing his own.

The opponent may not be limited to your ideas of what is a weapon. At Comdex, I was not allowed to enter a keynote theater with a pocketknife. Never mind that the stated policy banned cameras, laptop computers, bags of all kinds, but not knives. The security guard put his hands on his hips and grumped, "Well, you should have known!" My Rotring pen, however, a forged metal shaft that is three times as long as my knife blade, was acceptable. If you and I were to fight a duel and I had choice of weapons, I would give you the knife and keep the pen any day.

If institutions want support for their increased security measures, those measures have to stand up to common-sense scrutiny; they have to be communicated clearly and enforced consistently and courteously. Otherwise, youll have a much bigger problem than when only the terrorists dislike you.

Tell me whats keeping you "safe" at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.