Forgot your password?
typodupeerror

You Have Been 'Randomly' Selected? 1160

Posted by Cliff
from the less-random-than-a-PRNG dept.
dpbsmith asks: "One thing I've noticed is that the people who are told by the TSA that they have been 'randomly' selected for baggage inspection have a tendency not to believe it. I know one couple whose wife has been 'randomly' selected four times, while the husband never has been. The wife believes that it is because each of those times, she was traveling by herself, without checked baggage, (whereas she has never been inspected when traveling with her husband with checked baggage). In 'Uncommon Carriers', John McPhee accompanied a truck driver to write about the experience, and bought a trucker's cap to blend in. He says 'I would pay for my freedom at the Seattle-Tacoma airport when, with a one-way ticket bought the previous day, I would arrive to check in my baggage.' His baggage was 'randomly' selected for inspection, and later he was 'once again "randomly selected" for a shoes-off, belt-rolled, head-to-toe frisk.' So, what about it? Is the TSA simply flat-out lying when they tell you that you have been 'randomly selected?'" The better question to ask is: "Are random searches effective in keeping everyone safe?"
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

You Have Been 'Randomly' Selected?

Comments Filter:
  • by Ckwop (707653) * <Simon.Johnson@gmail.com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:33PM (#16039862) Homepage
    The better question to ask is: "Are random searches effective in keeping everyone safe?"

    There's two seperate questions here:

    • Are random searches effective, full stop?
    • Are random searches better than profile-driven searches?

    If 'enough' random searches are done then I expect they would be effective. Clearly, it is unresonable to search everybody so it's a trade-off between cost, time and hastle. The exact number of searches you conduct will depend precisely on how you way up these trade-offs. It will also depend on how much training your provide to the people conducting the searches.

    I believe that profile-driven searches are flawed. The flaw is that the attacker can always avoid the profile you're trying to detect. For example, if I profile for young Muslim men with turbans the attacker can simply pick disaffected white middle-class women. Sure, such people are hard to come by but it is fool-hardy to suggest that they do not exist.

    Profiling by race and religion flies in the face of everything we've struggled to achieve in the last century. I think it was Martin Luther King who said:

    I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    Those words transcend race, religion and colour. We should not judge because a man reads the Koran any more than we should judge because he is Black. Muslims are not terrorists. To quote another great mind, master Yoda:

    Fear is the path of the dark side. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

    There's already a dark cloud gathering. The question is how dark can it get?

    Simon.

    • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:36PM (#16039880) Journal
      National Lampoon's Vacation. This is 1983 bear with me. When the owner came in to Wally World hearing about terrorists, he asked,"Are they Arabs?"
    • by Tet (2721) <slashdotNO@SPAMastradyne.co.uk> on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:39PM (#16039896) Homepage Journal
      if I profile for young Muslim men with turbans

      Minor nitpick: the vast majority of turban wearers are Sikh, not Muslim.

      • by Deflatamouse! (132424) on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:10PM (#16040058) Homepage Journal
        The grandparent is right though. Muslims that wear turbans are pretty suspicious. :)
        • by drDugan (219551) * on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:46PM (#16040254) Homepage
          The whole mentality behind searching people to get on a airplane promotes false security. We can't even stop weapons in our prisons, and we will NEVER be able to stop deadly weapons on airplanes.

          What we need to do is come to the realization that the ONLY way to make technically fragile public transit work is to promote an atmosphere where people do not want to attack us, instead of trying to prevent the few who do from being able to. "They" will always be able to, especially with increasingly cheap and effective technology.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by spruce (454842)
            Your solution sounds nice, and is a long term goal to shoot for, but is far less realistic than keeping weapons off of planes. How many differenct illogical reasons have humans found to attack each other over the course of history?

            World peace would be nice, but until we get there we need to be practicle about security (not that our current policies are.)
          • What we need to do is come to the realization that the ONLY way to make technically fragile public transit work is to promote an atmosphere where people do not want to attack us,

            Like the Germans, [yahoo.com] French [bbc.co.uk] and Spanish [cnn.com] did. That worked out really well for them, didn't it?

            This whole "I'd like to teach the world to sing... in perfect harmony" mentality is the kind of thing that will get us killed.
            • by Jeremi (14640) on Monday September 04, 2006 @09:00PM (#16040921) Homepage
              This whole "I'd like to teach the world to sing... in perfect harmony" mentality is the kind of thing that will get us killed.


              You're absolutely right, not protecting ourselves against known threats would be suicidal.


              On the other hand, doing provocative, stupid things that are guaranteed to turn otherwise friendly or neutral people into our enemies is equally suicidal.


              The whole "fuck what everybody thinks, we'll keep ourselves secure through military force alone" mentality is based on the assumption that we have the physical ability to do so. The hard truth, however, is that that simply isn't the case -- our military can barely keep the lid on Iraq, let alone any of the other 3-4 dozen countries where terrorism is a concern. Our only option is to enlist the aid of the rest of the world's governments and people in helping us stop terrorism. The good news is that that shouldn't be too difficult to do -- almost nobody likes terrorists. But to work with people (or governments), you have to treat them with respect -- in particular, you have to understand that it's a two-way street. Double-standards do not go unnoticed by the world's public.

              • Sure they can... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by maillemaker (924053) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @08:34AM (#16043666)
                >The hard truth, however, is that that simply isn't the case -- our military can barely keep the lid on Iraq, let alone any of the other 3-4 dozen countries where terrorism is a concern.

                Make no mistake: Our military is quite capable of dealing with Iraq, or just about any other nation on earth.

                The problem lies in that no one has the stomach for really turning them loose to do just that, and thanks to the speed of modern news networks, no one can get away with Dresdens or Hiroshimas anymore.

                Steve
            • by drDugan (219551) * on Monday September 04, 2006 @10:16PM (#16041304) Homepage
              How is this comment insightful? Please explain this more. I see this comment is driven by the fundamentalist, black -n- white mentality that drives most of the current insanity.

              First, you are fear mongering: using single incidents and news reports to support statements about whole nations.

              Second, you are ignoring that there is a wide and available gap between peace and appeasement.
              Our options are not just "appease" or "war" - there is a huge middle ground. It used to be called "diplomacy".

              When I say "an atmosphere where people do not want to attack us" - don't assume that only can occur because they love us - just that others don't hate us SO MUCH they are willing to die for their cause. Everyone living in peace and love would be great (but to get there we need to eliminate property entirely) - and we should shoot for that, but it's not feasible in the short term. There are lots of ways to get to the place where people don't want to attack you. It takes a LOT of fear and hate and misery to get a group of people who are so downtrodden and lost they resort to suicide bombing.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by westlake (615356)
            the ONLY way to make technically fragile public transit work is to promote an atmosphere where people do not want to attack us,

            The fundamental fact driving radical Islam is the 400 year decline of Islamic civilization in competition with the West. What Went Wrong? [npr.org]

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Andy Gardner (850877)
              The fundamental fact driving radical Islam is the 400 year decline of Islamic civilization in competition with the West. What Went Wrong?

              I think the fundamental fact driving 'radical Islam' is the Islamic countries have seen what we've done to Latin America and Southeast Asia over the last 50 years and are scared shitless were going to do the same thing to them. Rightly so I'd say.

          • by murdocj (543661) on Monday September 04, 2006 @11:03PM (#16041570)
            And yet, amazingly enough, even though we know that there are lots of people willing to die to bring down aircraft, and even though you say that searches are completely ineffective, aircraft aren't falling from the sky daily.

            The solution of making sure that there isn't a single person, anywhere on earth, that doesn't want to blow up an airplane seems a little... unrealistic.
          • Unrealistic goals (Score:3, Insightful)

            by SuperKendall (25149)
            The whole mentality behind searching people to get on a airplane promotes false security. We can't even stop weapons in our prisons, and we will NEVER be able to stop deadly weapons on airplanes.

            I see, the argument is "if we can't achieve 100% prevetion, why try at all".

            The problem is in the real word I'd at least like them to screeon out the people wearing more that three sticks of dynamite with carry-on explosive vests.
    • by twiggy (104320) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:47PM (#16039938) Homepage
      It is not random. It is determined by a number of factors, a huge one of which is flying standby and/or one way.

      Other factors include travel / purchasing habits etc...

      At at least 2 airlines I've flown, you will see them write one "S" on your ticket for each flag you set off, which increases your likelihood of being "randomly" selected. The whole random thing is a complete misnomer. You're being profiled - not necessarily racially, but you're definitely being profiled.
      • by WebCrapper (667046) on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:13PM (#16040072)
        My father-in-law gets nailed everytime he flies. I've been standing next to him with a laptop, earphones in, etc and he got nailed. Some pastey, white haired guy with glasses, over me. I still don't get it. Its even funnier when he talks about the times he's pulled into an office to talk about why he has an industrial packet scanner and other "security" type tools when he gets on the airplane. They're "far too advanced for his age..."

        On a side note, my wife is in the military and we have to go through "random" security screenings for our cars. Somehow my Saturn gets nailed 10 to 1 over my wife's car every month. There are times when I just want to run the damn guards over.
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Corbets (169101)
          On a side note, my wife is in the military and we have to go through "random" security screenings for our cars. Somehow my Saturn gets nailed 10 to 1 over my wife's car every month. There are times when I just want to run the damn guards over.

          Based on that last comment, it would seem like they're searching the right person then. no? :)
      • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday September 04, 2006 @07:06PM (#16040340) Journal
        At at least 2 airlines I've flown, you will see them write one "S" on your ticket for each flag you set off, which increases your likelihood of being "randomly" selected.
        Farking A.

        Last time I flew, I got 4 S's on my ticket, as did the rest of my family.

        I asked the TSA employee if the SSSS was why we were getting the special treatment and he said "the airline determines who gets marked for extra treatment"

        I just didn't realize that each extra "S" meant "+ 1 we think you're a terrorist"
    • by drsmithy (35869) <drsmithy@gma i l . c om> on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:02PM (#16040017)
      I believe that profile-driven searches are flawed. The flaw is that the attacker can always avoid the profile you're trying to detect. For example, if I profile for young Muslim men with turbans the attacker can simply pick disaffected white middle-class women.

      "Profiling" - for security reasons - is generally not performed on anything close to the level of simplicity most people criticising it think it is.

      "Profiling" - performed properly - helps by directing scarce resources where they are most likely to produce a positive result.

      Suggesting that a young single woman flying out of Sweden with a round-the-world ticket is equally as likely to hijack/destroy the plane as a group of young single "middle eastern" men with one-way tickets flyng out of Saudi Arabia, is letting your idealistic bleeding-heart-leftist-stupidity get in the way of common sense.

      Not to mention, *everyone* "profiles", every day, all the time. It's impossible (not to mention stupid) not to. Some people just can't admit to it.

      Those words transcend race, religion and colour. We should not judge because a man reads the Koran any more than we should judge because he is Black. Muslims are not terrorists.

      Selecting *solely* because of skin colour I can certainly agree with, because it is both a) out of a person's control and b) utterly irrelevant to how a person behaves.

      However, the same cannot be said of religion.

      How a person behaves is strongly influenced by their culture. Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, intolerant and short-sighted religious beliefs are a significant contributor to culture.

      Skin colour (more accurately, ethnicity) is not. However, there are many areas in the world where ethnicity and culture are strongly correlated. To ignore this - or, even worse, actively deny it - is folly.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510)
        Suggesting that a young single woman flying out of Sweden with a round-the-world ticket is equally as likely to hijack/destroy the plane as a group of young single "middle eastern" men with one-way tickets flyng out of Saudi Arabia, is letting your idealistic bleeding-heart-leftist-stupidity get in the way of common sense.

        That is just ignorance speaking.

        Given two years it is possible to convert a dark-skinned, black-haired muslim man into a "young single woman flying out of sweden."

        Convert dark-skin into wh
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Keebler71 (520908)
          Why is it that anytime anyone ever suggests a security measure... be it profiling, baggage screening, copy-protection, DRM, electronic surveillance, whatever... invariably some idiot jumps up and says "but look that can be defeated too!" as if that argument makes the whole venture worthless? Of course people can change appearances, DRM can be cracked, RFID passports can be manipulated, fingerprints machines spoofed and wireless communications can be made more secure. Nothing can be made perfectly secure.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drsmithy (35869)
          Given two years it is possible to convert a dark-skinned, black-haired muslim man into a "young single woman flying out of sweden."

          Which would explain why there's so many young Swedish women (or people pretending to be) committing terrorist acts, right ? I mean, 9/11 was what - 5 years ago ? Iraq was invaded when ? Over 3 years ago ? Surely we should be seeing some of the results of these "two year" conversions by now ?

          Anything you can come up with to base your profiling on can be used to work the sy

      • by darkmeridian (119044) <william@chuang.gmail@com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @07:53PM (#16040579) Homepage
        Dude. Three names: Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, and Richard Reed. Three terrorists who would not set off your criteria. More than just bleeding heart liberalism here, just common sense. Islam is a religion, not a race or ethnicity. You start looking for brown Muslims, and they'll start sending white ones. (Remember the white guy in the Al Qaeda video released around Election Day, 2004?) If we're going to bother to make a secure system, we might as well go through the trouble of making it work for real.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by drsmithy (35869)
          Dude. Three names: Timothy McVeigh, Theodore Kaczynski, and Richard Reed. Three terrorists who would not set off your criteria.

          At no point did I ever suggest my criteria to be exhaustive, nor such a process to be infallible.

          You'll never get all of them. No sane person would argue otherwise. The objective is to get *most* of them.

          More than just bleeding heart liberalism here, just common sense. Islam is a religion, not a race or ethnicity.

          I'm sure you think you've made a point here, but I have no idea

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by squidguy (846256)
          Sorry...Richard Reid was flagged by airline personnel (American Airlines) in Paris, as being suspicious. Unfortunately, the French police declined to search him or take additional action despite numerous requests from the airline to do so. Profiling worked, sort of.
      • by leonbrooks (8043)

        Selecting solely because of skin colour I can certainly agree with, because it is both a) out of a person's control and b) utterly irrelevant to how a person behaves.

        It can, however, be a valid cultural tag. A very, very simplistic one & not a guarantee, but...

        However, the same cannot be said of religion.

        However, religion doesn't necessarily leave any detectable marks.

        Telling the exact truth to an infidel (or machine) would need to be more important to the subject than their current mission & I

    • by dbIII (701233)
      For example, if I profile for young Muslim men with turbans
      For an example as to why profiles are not going to do the job: at least one of the Sept 11 hijackers was known to frequently drink alcohol in public and go clubbing - even his father had no idea that he was interested in anything that would fit what we would expect a terrorist to believe in - paticularly an extremist fundamentalist group.
    • by Simon Garlick (104721) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @07:47AM (#16043510)
      > The better question to ask is: "Are random searches effective in keeping everyone safe?"

      The better question to ask is "Are random searches effective in making you feel scared?"
  • by Frogular (961545) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:34PM (#16039866)
    It's simple really. The TSA has their risk model based on various factors such as race, ticket purchase habits, slow/fast day at the airport, etc. Each criteria that's met increases the chances of you getting 'randomly' selected. It's still technically random, just not uniformly random.
  • by Chemisor (97276) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:35PM (#16039872)
    An even better question to ask is why you bother asking. Everybody already knows that the TSA's purpose is not to keep you safe, but to intimidate and harrass you. Whatcha gonna do about it, freedom boy? Sue the government? Ha ha ha. Like that's ever going to happen. Like you have a snowball's chance in hell of winning.
  • by StikyPad (445176) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:37PM (#16039885) Homepage
    Sometimes people get picked multiple times -- that's how random distribution works.

    For example, I've been randomly selected as a finalist in the Publisher's Clearinghouse Sweepstakes almost every year. What are the odds?!?!
  • Unprofiled (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:39PM (#16039893)
    I've only ever been randomly selected when travelling by myself.
    I have never been randomly selected when I was travelling with my wife and two screaming children.

    Perhaps they don't want to deal with my wife's reaction. This would be wise.
    Perhaps they believe that I wouldn't want to blow up a plane with my own children on it. This would be foolhardy.
  • by rpjs (126615) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:43PM (#16039914)
    Last time we flew, back in May, we flew UK-US with BA, then took a side-trip to the Bahamas with Delta. When we checked in for the Bahamas flight, the check-in agent wanted to take my green visa waiver form from my passport. I explained that I'd asked the US immigration agent when we'd arrived and he'd said I could keep it on the trip to the Bahamas and use it for re-entry to the US. The check-in agent wasn't happy, but let me keep it. However, my boarding pass bore the dreaded SSSS marker and I duly got the full wanding, bag search etc. My wife did't get selected.

    Funnily enough, on checking in at Nassau, my pass had the SSSS stamp too, but no-one batted an eyelid at it, and I didn't get any security checking different from that which my wife or anyone else around got.
  • My experience... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cozziewozzie (344246) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:49PM (#16039946)
    I flew over to the US from Europe a few weeks ago. Six flights overall, three to California and three back.

    I got "randomly" selected three times out of these six flights. In addition to this, my (checked-in) bag was "accidentally" delayed before being loaded onto the plane, and the flight attendant had to come and ensure that I was onboard before the "delayed" bag was brought onboard, just before landing (which was delayed due to my bag).

    I'm mid-20s, with an Arab-sounding name, not married, travel a lot (including Eastern Europe), didn't carry a lot of baggage (I was only visiting for a couple of days).

    Every time they told me they "randomly" selected me for inspection, I smiled and let them do their thing.

    "Random" selection is profiling under a PC name. Of course they profile people. And of course they won't tell you that they do. Before travelling to the US, I was thinking about how suspicious I may appear and how many times they would search me, dig through my luggage and ask me questions. Surprise, surprise, they did it. Three times.
  • Not so random for me (Score:4, Interesting)

    by insecuritiez (606865) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:50PM (#16039952)
    I have a large camouflage pattern duffel bag that I've been traveling with over the last two years. Every time I arrive at my destination I find one of those long TSA slips in my bag informing me that it was randomly selected for search. In over twelve trips with this bag, it has never NOT been 'randomly' selected. I don't care if my bag is searched, but it makes me wonder how realistic it is to expect a camouflage bag to more of a risk than some other bag.
  • by 200_success (623160) on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:52PM (#16039967)

    Technically, "random" does not necessarily mean uniformly distributed. There are many different ways to randomly pick a sample while not being fair. From my personal observation, I agree that there is some kind of profiling going on in the TSA's screening process.

  • Random my ass (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Captain Splendid (673276) <capsplendid@gmail . c om> on Monday September 04, 2006 @05:54PM (#16039979) Homepage Journal
    Since 9/11, I have been 'ramdomly selected' pretty much every single time (upwards of 75% of the time at least by approximation). Which is fine. I'm scruffy, with facial hair. I'm born in country A, carry a passport from country B, and live in country C, none of which are the US.


    My point is, I expect it. But random? Yeah, right.

  • by smash (1351) on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:22PM (#16040115) Homepage Journal
    ...sure, for a while, profiling may help pick up bags more effectively, but what's to say that "the terrorists" aren't taking note of what gets picked up?

    I.e., some guy on here posted about his camoflague bag getting searched every time. If i was a terrorist organisation and noticed that, I'd be damn sure to NOT use a camo-bag for my gear...

    Any non-random method of selection can be beaten. By trying to make searches more effective, you may in fact be reducing their long-term usefulness.

  • Randomly selected (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ggambett (611421) on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:22PM (#16040117) Homepage
    Back in june I took 4 flights, 2 within the US and 2 to/from the US, in the space of a week. I was randomly selected in only one of these, flying from Dulles to SeaTac - that time I had missed a connection flight and had a standby boarding pass, not sure if it had anything to do.

    Anyway, after the metal detector I was informed that I had been selected for additional screening. I was briefly stopped in a funny looking box with a red sign, less than 30 secs later a guard took me to behind the metal detector lines. My hand luggage, shoes and jacket were carefully inspected, I was checked with a metal detector wand, and then I was on my way. The whole process must have taken about 5 minutes and didn't cause me a single inconvenience.

    Even though I'm caucasian, I'm from south america, so I could cry "I was targeted because I come from a third world country". I didn't. I also didn't notice people looking at me like I was doing something wrong. Essentially, this was routine, no different than going through the metal detector itself or the brief questions by the immigrations officer. I guess you'll say "that's how it starts" or that it's a matter of principle, but what's the big deal with this?
  • by AriaStar (964558) on Monday September 04, 2006 @06:32PM (#16040173) Journal
    You know, next time I fly, I'm going to make sure to pack items I know would embarass the hell out of the inspector should I be "randomly" inspected. Then I'd really look forward to them opening my bags up, and would be disappointed to not be selected. I'd just sweetly smile with a barely contained smirk and confidentally make some sort of smart-ass remark about joining the one-person mile-high club in the bathroom. ;-)

    Oh, I look forward to embarassing any airline dummy who wants ot inspect my stuff!
  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday September 04, 2006 @07:05PM (#16040333) Homepage
    As much as I'd like to confirm the presense of some formula I definitely cannot. I have screened people and baggage in every way. I will say that as far as baggage goes, have a look at your tags and the tags of those around you. You're likely to see a difference. Same goes for boarding passes... do a little comparison.

    I don't pretend to know how the process works or what the criteria may be, but I can offer some advice:

    1. Just go through with it... plan on it. It's about as annoying as a traffic jam.
    2. The air carriers have more to do with the "selection" process than the TSA does. (I'm 90% certain of that) So take your bitches and complaints up with the airline... they just might put you on a white list somewhere if you threaten to give your money to another "almost bankrupt carrier." They can't afford to lose your business... none of them can.

    To expound upon that, if "the people" want all this crap to get better, start complaining where the money moves, not with congress, not with the president and not with the TSA. (True, there's money there, but the influencial money starts with the air carriers.) If people start complaining enough and changing airlines, they'll listen.
  • by Skippy_kangaroo (850507) on Monday September 04, 2006 @07:06PM (#16040338)
    You can think about it in terms of game theory.

    An important concept in game theory is the mixed strategy. That is where you randomise over certain choices because it is optimal to do so to prevent your pattern of play being anticipated and counteracted by your opponent. (Consider a game of matching pennies - you choose heads or tails and reveal it simultaneously to your opponent. If they match you win, if they don't your opponent winds. The optimal strategy is to randomly pick 50/50 heads and tails. Skillful players of games in general are ones that can a) randomise themselves properly, and b) exploit the fact that their opponents don't randomise properly)

    Thus, in the case of 'random' searches it needs to be random to ensure that the searching strategy can't be circumvented. But that doesn't mean that the odds of every given person being selected need to be the same. For example, if it is much harder for terrorists to convince mothers with young children to become scuicide bombers that means that they are less likely to do so or, completely dispasionately, if they do there will be fewer terrorist attacks because they have fewer volunteers. This would still be better than the alternative. Importantly, for the discussion here it is provably optimal to do this.

    Thus, an optimal screening strategy is random, but the probability of selection need not be uniform.

    (And a statistics aside: even though the chance that someone who flies 4 times gets selected every time would seem to be 1/10000 - if they individual odds are 1/10 - given that over 10,000 people fly, you are almost guaranteed that someone will be selected 4 times in a row.)
  • by Registered Coward v2 (447531) on Monday September 04, 2006 @07:32PM (#16040478)
    Behavioral profiling - i.e. looking for clues that someone is stressed and then questioning them to see how they respond.

    This of course, requires training and to do it well an IQ above room temperature - you could probably train front line supervisors to be on guard and have them flag persons for further review - much as some countries already do.
  • kind of random.. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 04, 2006 @08:04PM (#16040639)
    I used to work at a major airline. Not at the ticket counter but I was there enough to figure out random means a profile. The profile has nothing to do with you the person. It appears to be a weighted average of what someone believes might seperate you from the average person. Last minute ticket, one way, no checked in baggage, do not fly often, paid with cash, part of a group that all did the same, many tickets for different people on one credit card, flying alone blah blah blah. I guess if they use such parameters that does qualify as a profiling but you the person are not being profiled, your habit or events that lead to your ticket purchase seemed to fit someones idea of what a terrorist might do as well.

    Is this effective? I have no idea, some of those parameters might but they are easy to alter as well and a lot of those above are done by real every day Joes as well. That is why every day Joe gets those random checks as well. I doubt anyone outside the TSA really knows exactly what they look at to determine who might be a risk or how effective it really is.

    Insurance companies profile as well. 16-24 year old male? You pay the highest rates regardless of your driving record. That age sets off a flag that you are of the highest percentage of unsafe drivers. Own a home or have a 4.0 GPA? You get lower rates then the person that does not own a home or is the sick in school. They have determined through profiling that home owners and kids that buckle down in school are more responsible and less likely to be involved in an accident.

    Don't act so suprised that the TSA/NSA/FBI and what ever other 3 letter law enforment types think they can profile as well. Is this passenger profile thing worse then truely random? I have no idea. If you do not meet what ever criteria they are looking for, I guess you would have a less chance of being picked at random assuming they only pick a certain percentage of people overall. If they pick a certain percentage of truely random people AND pick people that meet a certain profile then profiling is not worse then random.
  • by Dr. Manhattan (29720) <sorceror171&gmail,com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @08:52PM (#16040879) Homepage
    Travelling on business to Ireland for the third time in a year and half. Checking in at the Detroit airport, I ask them to make sure that my bags are checked through to my final destination, since I'll be making a stop. I'd had a very bad experience on my return trip six months prior and nearly missed my connecting flight home because of it.

    The guy does so, then looks at me and offers to move me to a window seat. I say, "Sounds good" and hand back the boarding pass I've already received. Sure enough, the one I get back has a bunch of S's drawn on it. I get the VIP treatment at security, of course.

    So, was that question really a big terrorist tipoff or something? Or did I just irritate the guy a bit and he decided to have some fun with me? And either way, am I supposed to feel safer?

  • by Hotrodder (149421) on Monday September 04, 2006 @09:28PM (#16041054)
    EX TSA here

    If you buy a one way ticket, you were not randomly selected, If you buy your ticket at the last moment you were not randomly selected. If you did one of the many unknown "bad" things you were not randomly selected.

    The airlines ticketing system is set up to flag certain actions, and prints out that line of SSSSSSS on your ticket and you get extra screening... nothing random about it.

    Random screening happens when the screener at the walk through metal detector sees that one of the people running the hand held detectors are not searching anyone so whoever is next is sent that way. Or when the screener searching bags out of the X-Ray machine finishes a bag, they just grab the next bag out of the machine and search that.

    So random in this case comes from just keeping the screeners busy.
  • by carn1fex (613593) on Monday September 04, 2006 @09:40PM (#16041113)
    Well one morning i was on a 6am flight and I hadnt had any coffee and I was 'randomly' searched for the billionth time. I kind of flipped out and asked the TSA people why the hell I was always searched. They calmly turned me around and showed me the back of the metal detector. Your response on the detector is zero to four indicated by 4 lights lighting up or not. When you walk through you will notice the guy/gal looking up above you at these lights. A big chunk of metal will get an obvious '4' and the thing will beep etc. But a 2 or 3 just means you have a bit more metal than usual and they will then ask you to step aside. Now heres the kicker, the response is higher based on how close you are to the detector so fat and tall people naturally set off a higher signature. Im 6'4 so they said I will always ring up a higher response, hence I get 'randomly' searched. Now i duck when i go through the detector and have not been pulled aside once since then. Hooray.
  • "random selection" (Score:3, Informative)

    by Shads (4567) <<gro.sudahs> <ta> <sudahs>> on Monday September 04, 2006 @09:42PM (#16041126) Homepage Journal
    I got randomly selected 5 times in one trip.

    I'm almost 30, dark hair and eyes, a bit over weight, fairly non-descript, had a partial beard. They nailed me *every* plane to the cayman islands and all but the one from the cayman->boston on the way back (CAK->CLE->Boston->Caymans-|-Caymans->Boston->CLE- >CAK). My significant other who was traveling with me never got checked and of the people in line with me and who i saw, only one other person got checked on the flight from CLE. It's random my ass.
  • by herohog (626700) on Monday September 04, 2006 @09:43PM (#16041132) Homepage
    I get "randomly" selested for "special attention" EVERY time I have flown in the last 5 or so years. I'm a 6'1" large, bearded guy. I have also had a Federal Firearms Liscence and had Concealed Handgun Permits in several states. Coincident? I think not.
  • Random my ass (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dan B. (20610) <<slashdot> <at> <bryar.com.au>> on Monday September 04, 2006 @10:12PM (#16041279) Homepage
    Random is such a joke.

    I travelled through the USA on 6 flights in Jan - Mar 2002. I was randomly selected for special treatment 6/6 times. My bagage and boarding cards get the SSSS every time.
    I travelled through the USA on 7 flights in Jul - Aug 2003. I was randomly selected for special treatment 7/7 times. This time was the funniest though. I was travelling with someone although on separate bookings, so I just gave him my carry-on as it was too much of a hassle for me to have it searched every time.

    Both times were on round the world tickets, travelling one-way segments, single male, 25-28 years of age.

    So to reiterate, random, my ass.
  • by beadfulthings (975812) on Monday September 04, 2006 @10:28PM (#16041379) Journal
    I flew an awful lot (60-80% of my work time spent out of the office) prior to 9/11. After 9/11, when that job went belly-up, I quit traveling for business and now fly only occasionally for recreation or family needs.

    My pre-9/11 experience: Often flights would be delayed. When the rest of us were seated, three or four embarrassed-looking businessmen (and yes, they were always men) would board. Their carry-ons would sport vivid orange stickers. Their common bond would be that they were not-white. They might be Black (from Africa or here--who knows), Arab, Asian, Indian (from India) or from some other not-white ethnic group. They were the ones selected for the "random" luggage checks. Only once do I recall a white person being pulled aside. It was a woman. While she was nice-looking (clean, well-dressed, middle aged, not wild-eyed), her carry on bag was a mess. I recall a hair dryer and lots of electrical wires sticking out of the top. She, too, boarded late sporting the orange sticker.

    Post 9/11 I had an experience of my own. Summoned to a distant city on an emergency basis, I needed to board a plane, go fetch an elderly relative, and drive the person back to my home. That meant a one-way ticket and no checked bag; I had only a knapsack with some overnight things. I'm a white woman. I was pulled quickly from the line, thoroughly patted down by a female attendant, and had my bag gone through very thoroughly. They also wanted to chat a bit about the reasons for my trip. I didn't get an orange sticker, and I didn't make the plane late.

    To me, the "random searches" were a rather odious form of profiling based on the not-whiteness of the person's complexion. They may not have been called "profiling," but that's what they were. The pre-9/11 white woman had a carry-on that made everybody suspicious, and I can't blame the security folks for wanting a closer look. As for myself, I fit a pattern that obviously set off alarms--no return ticket, no checked bag. They probably check everybody who fits that pattern regardless of their ethnicity or gender. I didn't find it too objectionable.

    There has to be a way to do this without profiling people on their looks.
  • by edward.virtually@pob (6854) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @12:32AM (#16042016)
    "Are random searches effective in keeping everyone safe?"

    Random searches wouldn't have stopped the 9/11 terrorists. They used box cutters to threaten lives, but if such searches had been in place they would have used dental floss garrotes or their bare hands for the same purpose. Several times people have successfully defeated the searches just to prove it could be done and do not prevent even untrained citizens from bringing contraband on planes.

    Random searches are not effective in keeping us safe. What they are effective at is lulling the public into accepting routine violation of their constitutional rights under the guise of protection. Back in the 80s, during the cold war, the paranoid and abusive treatment of travelers by the USSR due to "national security" concerns was properly seen as proof of a fascist government and held up for scorn and ridicule. How sad it is that we have allowed the destruction of a few buildings and loss of 3030 [vikingphoenix.com] lives to turn us into what we fought against. Something several wars with much higher losses both economic and human failed to do. Many free and democratic nations suffered repeated terrorist violence before 9/11 but did not allow it to warp their societies. In contrast we have sacrificed our rights as citizens and our values as a country in response to a single attack and promote such sacrifices of rights and values by our allies.

    The random searches and other intrusive treatment of passengers has not resulted in the conviction of many (any?) terrorists, but it has endoctrinated millions to accepting treatment they would not have tolerated previously. In pursuit of physical safety, we have sacrified liberty. A libertarian might say that the undefined risk of pre-9/11 security was less objectionable than the daily violation of the rights of tens of millions of citizens that takes place under post-9/11 security. It is worth thinking about.
  • The easy fix (Score:3, Interesting)

    by J. T. MacLeod (111094) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @01:00AM (#16042157)
    When I've been to Mexico and Peru (and I'm sure they do it in many other countries), each person in line had to press a button underneath a light, which would light up at random.

    It gets hectic enough around those points that fixing it to light up for one person is VERY hard, so it's likely to be legit.

    NOT having such a system just leaves it open for abuse.
  • by Pemdas (33265) * on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @02:26AM (#16042492) Journal
    From personal observations, it seems unlikely that the random selection is uniform. I would guess they do what they call stratified random sampling, and what other people would call profiling.

    I work for a university in the middle east. Once, when flying with 6 other people on one way tickets from the US to Qatar, every single one of us was "randomly" selected for extra security. When my parents, who live in the US, came out to visit, they were "randomly" selected for security. Upon returning to the states, they found that they were "randomly" selected for extra security checks on every flight they took for the next year or so. Me? I can recall one flight in the few years since I moved to the middle east in which I was not "randomly" selected for special security.

    So I'm guessing that there is a random element to it, but if you meet certain criteria, your probability of selection is pretty close to 1...
  • by bahamuut (9035) on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @03:41AM (#16042746) Homepage
    Period. My father works for a major carrier, and he's flat out told me and I have personally experienced, that if someone buys a one-way ticket, it raises a red flag. If you don't check any luggage, it raises a flag. If your name is a close match to the 'watch' list, it raises a red flag. Yes there might be some 'random' searches, but many of them are conducted as a result of a profile that was established soon after 9-11. This even applies to buddy pass riders, and family of airline employees. Since I've been profiled because of my race since second grade (told my parents I was a behavioral problem and should be in a Behavioral Handicapped class, even though I hardly spoke in class), stopped by police numerous times for no other reason than DWB (a special F-U goes out to the Claremont, CA police), and in general thought to be up to no good if I'm in the 'wrong' place at the 'wrong' time, all I can say to the rest of the population that thought that it was at one time exempt from being profiled for whatever reasons, welcome to reality(tm).
  • Effective at What? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mengel (13619) <{ten.egrofecruos.sresu} {ta} {legnem}> on Tuesday September 05, 2006 @11:49AM (#16045052) Homepage Journal
    I think you have to consider what the Real Goal of these searches is -- it is not to make airplanes safer, it is to make passengers feel safer, so they will still fly in airplanes.

    Once you realize this, then the practice of profiling makes perfect sense -- you pull aside the people that you think the other passengers are nervous about, and you search them. The other passengers see "dangerous looking" people being checked, and they feel safer. And you pull aside a few other random folks just to make it look sort-of fair.

    And for folks who have the Unabomber look, or the fundamentalist Muslim look, or who generally wear any sort of non-standard clothing, you pull them aside for the full body-cavity search etc. This trains people to clean themselves up and not look dangerous when they fly, which makes the public feel safer.

    And of course, there is the other mechanism; you announce it is random, and you look for people who look nervous, and check them. I had a math professor in college who used to do this; he had a deck of 3x5 cards with everyone's name on it, and he would make a great show of shuffling the deck and picking someone to put each homework question on the board. Of course, he actually picked whoever was squirming in their chair, or otherwise looking nervous, thus training folks to do their homework.

Make sure your code does nothing gracefully.

Working...