Monday, July 23, 2012

Theater Security Theater

After reading my post about post-mortems, James Ulvog offered a comment on the security/terror aspects of the post. Ulvog began as follows:

Bruce Schneier calls this security theater. It feels good but is worthless for risk reduction.

Since the shootings in Aurora occurred in a theater, I guess it's appropriate to say that we're engaging in theater security theater now.

In Washington, the Homeland Security Department held a conference call with officials from the commercial, entertainment and shopping mall industries to discuss what security measures they could take to prevent something like this from happening again.

Think about it. It sounds nice, but how can you prevent something like this from happening again? You can - but at a tremendous cost.

But don't worry - actions are being taken.

AMC Theatres, the nation's second-largest theater chain, with more than 300 movie houses, said it will not allow people to wear costumes or face-covering masks into its theaters.

Well, AMC just killed its "Rocky Horror" showings.

And those who are honest admit that these are not necessarily security measures per se.

The New York Police Department said was posting officers at about 40 theaters around the city that were showing the film. The increased security was a precaution against potential copycat shooters, and also meant to reassure moviegoers.

"We're doing this to raise the comfort level," Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. "We'd certainly encourage everybody to go about their business."

Frankly, the posting of a police officer outside a movie theater is more effective than a costume ban, but Commissioner Kelly even admits that this is just a reassurance.

And what did Bruce Schneier himself post in the aftermath of the shootings? Nothing. (Frankly, restraint is refreshing, as opposed to those who are posting multiple stories from every angle, to the revulsion of Loren Feldman.) Schneier has, of course, written about security theater in the past. I encourage you to read this article on the topic. I'll confine myself to quoting one excerpt which relates to the post-mortem topic that I raised earlier:

Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders. When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn't truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn't make any sense.

Often, this "something" is directly related to the details of a recent event: we confiscate liquids, screen shoes, and ban box cutters on aeroplanes. But it's not the target and tactics of the last attack that are important, but the next attack. These measures are only effective if we happen to guess what the next terrorists are planning. If we spend billions defending our rail systems, and the terrorists bomb a shopping mall instead, we've wasted our money. If we concentrate airport security on screening shoes and confiscating liquids, and the terrorists hide explosives in their brassieres and use solids, we've wasted our money. Terrorists don't care what they blow up and it shouldn't be our goal merely to force the terrorists to make a minor change in their tactics or targets.

Our penchant for movie plots blinds us to the broader threats. And security theater consumes resources that could better be spent elsewhere.

I encourage you, however, to read the entire article.
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