Atanu Dey On India's Development

Security in the Hands of the Retarded — Part 2

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These days it is rational to be mindful of security and be aware of possible threats from bombs and IEDs. We have to be reasonable about the whole thing. Panic never helps and could indeed be counter-productive. I thought the point I was trying to make was transparent enough in the previous post on this matter but going by some of the comments to that post, my failure to communicate is evident.

Consider these two hypothetical scenarios.

A. You are at an airport and waiting in the busy lobby to check in at the airline counter. A stranger walks up to you. He says, “Please keep an eye on this backpack. I have to run out and pay the taxicab. I will be back in a few minutes.” He then immediately hurries out. What should you do?

B. You have checked in at the airline counter. You have passed through the security and had your carry-on scanned and your body scan is also done. You get to the waiting area in front of the boarding gate. There are others similarly waiting to board. One guy sitting across from you says to you, “Excuse me, I have to go to the bathroom for a minute. Could you please keep an eye on my bag?” He waits for you to reply. What should you do?

Calling the airport security and getting everyone to back away from the backpack is a reasonable thing to do in the case of scenario A. The check-in lobby of an airport is not secure. People can walk in with bombs in their backpacks. Airport lobbies are prime targets for terrorists. It is not to terribly unlikely that there is some foul play going on. Knowing what you know, you will not walk up to a stranger to look after your backpack in an airport lobby. You have heard the announcements about not leaving your bags unattended and if a stranger asks you to look after his backpack even though he has heard the announcements, you have reasons to be very suspicious.

Scenario B is different. The carry-ons and the people have gone through security. I can reasonably expect that bags with RDX and other explosives are not in this area. If there are bags with explosives in this area, then we are in greater trouble than we can imagine. Next, it is reasonable for someone to ask for the simple favor of keeping an eye on his bag for a couple of minutes. Over the course of a few hundred times that I myself have waited for boarding, I have asked people to keep an eye on my carry-on while I stopped at the mens room. If someone asked me politely — and this too has happened a few times — I would say, “Sure.” If I reacted by calling the security, I would have been excessively paranoid and unreasonably stupid.

It is a matter of judgement. The point that I am yet again trying to make is that just because backpacks do occasionally have bombs in them, it makes no sense to abandon reason and commonsense. I did not claim that it was the security guard’s duty to keep an eye on my bag, any more than the guy at the boarding gate can claim that I am obligated to look after his carry-on while he takes a bathroom break.

It was not a question of duty. It was a matter of helping out a fellow human being, doing something that would not impose any high personal cost. I am anyway waiting to board my flight. I can without any trouble keep an eye on his bag. So also, the security guy is waiting at the gate. I am not a stranger to the security people.

It can be argued (and in fact one commenter did argue) that even terrorists can be regulars in a housing complex. It is possible. It is possible that the guy in the flat opposite mine is a terrorist. When he knocks on my door, I have to be careful. Perhaps his asking to borrow a cupful of sugar is a clever ploy to scope out my apartment. Yes, I know that he has lived with his family in that apartment for the last three years and he appears to work for an IT company. But how can I be sure that he is not a terrorist? After all, have we not heard of terrorists who work for IT firms?

So would I be a good neighbor if I say, “I am sorry I will not let you into my apartment. It is for security reasons. I am only doing this for your own security”? If I did that, he would be justified in thinking that I am on the wrong side of a loony bin.

My point — he said wearily for the umpteenth time — is that one needs to exercise judgement. Sound judgment requires a bit of thoughtfulness. The episode with the security guard was meant to illustrate a larger central point: that we have become a thoughtless society. A bit of compassion and kindness would go a long way.

My irritation with the security guard was the result of my impatience with the pointless things people do thoughtlessly and give the excuse that it is being done for security. Security has very little to do with it.

  • harsha

    Also, a lot of people are confused. They are not mindful bcos of various reasons like fear, poverty etc. And when a confused person is shouted at, his confusion can grow further( i wonder what ur watchman has learned from the incident).

    Imagine Buddha shouting at his disciples for having difficulty meditating. He understood other people are different from him and they need more time to get enlightened.I know this is easier said than done. Agreed u r not a Buddha, but anger is only hurting you(mostly).

  • Kedar

    Atanu,
    I take the carry-on luggage with me into the men’s room when I am travelling alone (even when the luggage contains food, photographs of Gods, sacred threads (yajnopavitas), etc).

    The cabins are spacious for me, my trousers and my carry-on luggage.

    I concede its a wee bit tricky sometimes to drag the carry-on luggage with you into the men’s room, but
    1)It saves you from any possible hassles and misigivings on others’ part–may be the guy you asked to keep watch on your bag turns out to be a retard and alerts the authorities!
    2)It is deterministic– one can always follow this procedure in any airport in the world without planning or communication.
    3)There is complete assurance that no one is messing around with your luggage– its in front of you all the time.

    Its just what I do though…

  • dodo

    Another such instance Atanu. Seems like retarded people have moved beyond boundaries:

    http://www.boingboing.net/2010/02/16/tsa-forces-travellin.html

  • Chandra

    Much of airport security is just security theatre. For example they make an unholy fuss about laptops. “Remove it! Put it in a separate basket!”. One time I was tired of lugging my cabin baggage with the laptop bag hanging around my neck. I shoved the laptop bag into the carry-on baggage and gave it for scanning. It went through fine. They didn’t find anything suspicious with a big object in the baggage.

    On the other hand, when I came to India from US, I had a PS3 in the check-in luggage and when I gave it for scanning before just before coming out, it was promptly found and I was taken aside and given a sheet showing how much excise duty I had to pay.

  • http://gadget-help.blogspot.com/ Gadget Help

    i agree with what everything you have written…makes sense…
    the area that requires the max security is the airport lobby..and tat itself is unsecure…

    The Secret Diary of Manmohan Singh.