Oct 09 2008

Transportation Security Administration Likely to Relax Restrictions on Liquids Next Year

The head of the Transportation Security Administration, Kip Hawley, says that the agency will likely relax its restrictions on liquids on commercial flights next year, the Wall Street Journal reports. The rules were put in place after an alleged plot to bring “a liquid bomb” onto planes heading to the US from the UK.

In a post on TSA’s blog, Hawley said that TSA believes, “widespread deployment of new multi-view x-ray systems with an enhanced algorithm that detects specific liquids remains about a year away. But the multi-view x-ray itself is a significant improvement over the standard x-ray that’s been at the checkpoint since its inception in the 1970s.” Once the technology is ready, Hawley says that the agency will be more flexible toward liquids brought on by air travelers.

Security expert Bruce Schneier, among others, has questioned the efficacy of these restrictions on liquid and TSA security procedures generally. In a recent column, Schneier explained the security holes in TSA’s restrictions.

Airport security found a jar of pasta sauce in my luggage last month. It was a 6-ounce jar, above the limit; the official confiscated it, because allowing it on the airplane with me would have been too dangerous. And to demonstrate how dangerous he really thought that jar was, he blithely tossed it in a nearby bin of similar liquid bottles and sent me on my way.

There are two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane. This difference is important: Making security screeners confiscate anything from that second class is a waste of time. All it does is harm innocents; it doesn’t stop terrorists at all. […]

If some copycat terrorists try to bring their liquid bomb through airport security and the screeners catch them — like they caught me with my bottle of pasta sauce — the terrorists can simply try again. They can try again and again. They can keep trying until they succeed. Because there are no consequences to trying and failing, the screeners have to be 100 percent effective. Even if they slip up one in a hundred times, the plot can succeed.

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