Friday, January 15, 2010

The insanity of watchlists

Michael Hicks is a suspected terrorist. Every time he gets on a plane, he is searched on the orders of the US Transportation Security Administration. He is just eight years old. His first search was when he was two.

This is a perfect illustration of the insanity of watchlists. Sometime, someone named Michael Hicks got on the TSA's list. And so now, no-one named Michael Hicks (or any simple variation thereof) can fly without hassle. There are over 1,600 Michael Hicks in the United States. At least 1,599 are innocent. But they all get to be punished, thanks to paranoia about terrorism. And because no-one wants to be the person who let the Dangerous Terrorist board the plane (or rather, get sacked for refusing to conduct an unreasonable search), this extends to searching eight-year-old boys and two-year old children.

Meanwhile, the article also highlights that the searches can be easily avoided with a misspelling or a formal name-change. Thousands of Americans are already doing this to avoid being unjustly victimised - and if they can do it, actual terrorists can. Which means the entire scheme is a giant waste of time. But just as no-one wants to be the person who let the Dangerous Terrorist on the plane, no-one wants to be the person who cut security before the terrorist attack (particularly in a political culture dominated by screaming Republicans). And so political arse-covering will mean that the list and its unreasonable searches of the innocent will likely continue forever.