Airport security

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Overview

Airport security has stiffened greatly in the past few decades, and most noticeably in the United States since the 2001-09-11 attacks. It is not clear, however, that the inconveniences imposed have in fact been improving safety for anyone; they often seem less like rationally-designed attempts to improve safety while minimizing inconvenience and more like publicity-minded attempts to increase the public impression that security has been tightened, often maximizing inconvenience for the sake of appearance while in fact overlooking serious flaws in the system that potentially undermine any real security gains.

For example, passengers now must remove their shoes, presumably in order to demonstrate that they are not concealing any non-metallic weapons there; however, anecdotal evidence is strong that small weapons such as pen-knives can be left on one's person (in one's pants pocket, for example) without detection. Mechanical pencils, which are certainly more dangerous than plastic knives (are plastic knives actually prohibited, or is that just a rumor?), are allowed through without comment. Knitting needles are supposedly banned, which is perhaps understandable, but so are crochet hooks, which is much less so.

The lack of any clear reference for what is prohibited and what is not prohibited only adds to the confusion.

Question: on what basis are these gradually stiffening security measures imposed? Do they really do any measurable good?

some historical notes

'Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, when RDU was a non-international airport with one terminal, you could walk out onto the tarmac to meet arriving passengers. Later in the 1970s (or possibly early 1980s) this was prohibited, but you could still go out to the gate to meet passengers as they filed into the terminal. Finally, after 9/11 (or possibly before), they were only letting ticketed passengers into the arrivals/departures area (where the gates are). I find it ironic, also, that the list of prohibited items only seems to get longer as the detection technology improves; the reverse should be true. --Woozle 16:36, 12 April 2007 (EDT)

other effects

The increased security-presence in airports has also spilled over into other venues, such as hospitals, which now sometimes also prohibit items such as knitting needles. (At one hospital here in Durham, the emergency room had a metal-detector and security guard, but other entrances had no security at all; knitting needles were not allowed, but it was fairly easy to smuggle them in via other entrances with relatively little research, including one entrance less than 50 feet from the security guard. How does this make sense, and who is it really benefiting? --Woozle 16:36, 12 April 2007 (EDT)) Are these common symptoms of the same thing, e.g. a rising level of fear in the general public or among administrators, or is airport security being taken as a model for other types of security?