You must be joking

If you’re checking in at Canberra Airport, you’d better act serious. Security there has just arrested three people in the last week for making jokes about having dangerous items in their luggage. In the latest incident, a Brisbane man was arrested and fined $750 after he told the Virgin check-in agent that he had "cocaine and guns" in his luggage.

Are these security guys on crack? How hard can it be to ask someone if they’re joking? Or glare at them a lot and tell them that they’d better answer the question seriously? Or even take them off into a side room and give them a big talking to? Are we really so uptight as a nation that we have to send people who are obviously joking to court?

This also points to the stupidity of asking people whether they have dangerous items in their luggage. It ain’t like the bad guys are going to feel compelled to tell the truth. This was why US authorities last year dropped the requirement for airlines to ask the "do you have dangerous stuff? did you pack your own bags?" questions. Australia should do the same. And maybe while we’re at it, we could lighten up a little.

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7 Responses to You must be joking

  1. From a letter I sent to The Department of Transport.

    For some time now when making plane trips I have been moving through security with my key-ring in my pocket. The metal detectors I pass through no longer pick this key-ring up, though my recollection is that many years ago an amount of metal this size would have been picked up and I would then have been scanned personally to identify the offending articles.
    The key-ring is made of metal. Attached to it is
    * a metal plate with a logo on it which I estimate to be around 1.5 millimetres wide by around * square centimetres in area.
    * The key to my holden which is quite heavy for such an item and contains a substantial metal key at one end and electronics at the other.
    * A ‘bi-lock’ key which has a plastic handle and more metal than many keys on account of the fact that the metal is bent into a ‘u’ shape along its shaft to provide two rather than one blades for the lock to read.
    I complain whenever this happens to authorities at the airport and I am told that the machines are set to the appropriate standard. I was told by one that the machines are set to detect the kind of metal that is used to make sharp objects. If this is true, it seems that our security rests on the rather flimsy assumption that terrorists may gather and train in cells for many months, that they may have access to sophisticated weapons, but they will not make box cutters – the implements used to perpetrate September 11 – of the metal that the metal detectors are less sensitive to.
    In any event this issue of the sensitivity to different metals seems a red herring. No matter how senior the person I speak to is, I am always informed that the Department of Transport is the agency that sets policy which governs the sensitivity of the metal detectors. I would be grateful for some response from you other than a ‘form’ response thanking me for my views and saying they are being taken into account. What on earth is the point of having security screening set at such a low level that is not even addressed to the level of threat that led to September 11?

    I received no reply.

  2. Andrew Norton says:

    Nick – I’m with Andrew. There should be less airport security, not more. Why would terrorists bother with planes now, since so long as they have to use anything less than a gun they will be attacked by passengers, and there are much easier targets, like railway stations. The airports should turn down the metal detectors and sack all the people who test for bomb residue.

  3. Correction, the department did respond.

    Thanks for bringing this matter to our attention. Your input is valued and it will be consdiered yada yada yada.

  4. Andrew Leigh says:

    Nicholas, I’d hazard a guess that you couldn’t get a box-cutter through an Australian airport screener. If there’s one thing security people excel in, it’s preventing the last bad thing that happened. The yanks of course take this to extremes — someday I’ll get around to writing “the deadweight cost of Richard Reid”, pricing the lost time from airport shoe removal policies in the period since December 2002.

  5. I found the reply!!


    Thank you for your electronic correspondence of 5 May 2004 to the Deputy
    Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services, the Hon
    John Anderson MP, concerning bkSubjectsecurity screening. Mr Anderson has
    asked me to reply on his behalf.bkOld

    The Government has set national, industry-wide standards for walk through metal detectors that are based on international criteria. Screening authorities (terminal operators or airlines) must adopt these minimum standards when using screening equipment. Staff undertaking passenger screening must also successfully complete training which again meets industry-wide specifications set by the Government.

    Walk through metal detectors must be calibrated for each installed location to ensure that set standards for metal detection are achieved. Screening authorities are required to test and document equipment calibration regularly and the Department of Transport and Regional Services audits compliance with these standards.

    Authorities and screening equipment manufacturers both locally and overseas are devoting considerable resources to the improvement of screening to enable better detection of items such as the ones you are concerned about. Security measures introduced by the Government since the tragic events of 11 September 2001, such as strengthened cockpit doors, introduction of explosive trace detection, training of cabin crew in self defence, and the deployment of air security officers, are all measures designed to provide additional protection against these threats and to provide a multi-layered approach to aviation security.

    I would like to reassure you that Australia’s aviation security is subject to continuous review and any measures that are introduced relate to comprehensive intelligence.

    Thank you for bringing this matter to the attention of the Minister.

    Yours Sincerely

  6. geoff says:

    Oh. Thats all right then. I feel so much safer now.

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