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Feb 29, 2016


Shanghai's metro, made worse by commuter ID checks
Shanghai’s metro, made worse by commuter ID checks

Although the silly season ended in mid January the ABC just fell for a really dumb call for universal ID checks for passengers on domestic flights.

The story claimed that by not establishing the identity of each passenger boarding such flights there was a risk criminals might be using airliners to travel and implied that this was a risk to other passengers.

Criminals fly between cities in Australia every day. To get somewhere. Bringing the airports to a standstill to run identity checks on every single person boarding a flight isn’t going to achieve anything apart from seriously damaging civil liberties and the usefulness of air travel.

The use of fraudulent identity documentation is already said to be a serious problem for law enforcement agencies, and even the slightest of leakages in the integrity of the checking systems or protocols (once the necessary investments have been made) isn’t going to make a logically flawed security goal any less stupid than what is now proposed.

The ABC story didn’t directly name the risks of a terrorist attack, although it implied that the continued carriage of persons with criminal records on flights, which has been no doubt been happening since air travel began 100 years ago, somehow raised this risk.

Let’s dissect this exercise in nonsense.

Knowing the true name and domicile of everyone on board a flight so that they can be (theoretically) checked against watch lists of known terrorists or dangerous persons is based on the absurd belief that such persons will actually be on a data base, or that the computer data base will perform flawlessly.

Do we need to know the identity of everyone who boards a suburban train or tram or bus? Do we need to prove that the holder of the Opal or Myki card in Sydney or Melbourne is actually the person who took out the card? Trains and the stations they use are much larger and easier terrorist targets than airliners and airport terminals, so the answer ‘No’ applies as convincingly to them as it does to the holder of an e-ticket to fly.

If there is a criminal on your flight between two Australian cities today he or she is no doubt actually flying to get somewhere as safely as you are.

Law enforcement is about preventing crime, not about preventing mass mobility, which is what would happen if every move by rail, or road, or air, by everyone, was the subject of blanket ID checks,  and keep in mind, they have be universal checks if they are to work for known criminals.

The sensible, if nowhere near to effective, emphasis on air travel security involves preventing people walking on board with bombs on, or in, their person, or their checked luggage, as well as eliminating the carriage of hazardous materials like certain chemicals or batteries.

It doesn’t involve a necessity to know the ID of the person who is flying, since the bags and carry on items are in theory the subject of universal screening, which doesn’t care who you are.  The Daily Telegraph today carries a story saying an average of two passengers a day are pulled from flights on suspicion of trying ‘to reach the Middle East’ for possibly wicked purposes (as distinct from the thousands of us who fly there every day on Emirates or Etihad or even on a few Qantas and Virgin flights).

Those intercepts reflect an effective application of intelligence and passport checking on selected flights, not on all of the hundreds of thousands of people who actually pass through domestic terminals around the country each day.

Far more people are hauled off jets for being drunk or disorderly at Australian airports than under suspicion of making their way to engage in terrorism related activity in a foreign country.

The ABC should have asked the question, who is lobbying for such a massive and pointless exercise in additional and invasive security checks at our airports and for what purpose?

The pilots who think they will somehow be safer knowing who it is they are carrying on a flight should have been asked ‘Why’ it would have been so, and what they seriously thought they would do if they knew the identity of the criminals who will undoubtedly fly on their flights as regularly as non-criminals.

Would they refuse to take-off? Would they have the same job if this sort of lunacy clogged the airports with delays caused by deciding which criminal ought to be removed from which flight, and where his or her checked bag might be in the system?

Does anyone who ever lends themselves to this sort of brain dead journalism actually think things through?

These processes already make flying a much more tedious, but no safer exercise in other parts of the world.

This Chinese New Year’s holiday, the authorities in Shanghai decided to try and enforce similar passenger ID verification to that at airports onto what is the world’s largest metro system.

The logic was impeccable. If criminals and terrorists are a risk in the sky, then they are in the metro as well. The Shanghai metro system carries an average of 7.75 million customers a day, and the ID crackdown, which further deteriorated the rail travel experience, resulted in 13,000 people being detained. In a single day.

Transpose that experience to daily life in Australia, at its airports or for the sake of consistency, to its other public transport facilities, and we can drag the economy into a deep dark hole dug for it by those who see security paranoia as supporting a growth industry.

The country won’t be any safer, but it will be poorer, and less free.



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22 thoughts on “Who hijacked ABC news over airport ID checks, and why?

  1. Peter Darco

    I recall reading years ago that Noosa in Queensland had a low crime rate because upmarket criminals took vacations there and frowned upon local crime.

    Perhaps we should encourage criminal bosses to use public transport.

  2. paddy

    Excellent rant Ben. My jaw nearly broke on the floor when I watched that lazy, dumb & just plain wrong trash appear on our ABC.

  3. Mayan

    Recently, there has been a steady stream of articles in the ‘Financial Times’ pimping the abolition of cash because criminals and terrorists might use it. There was also an article about how the US government won’t allow legal marijuana businesses to open bank accounts, forcing them to use cash, which highlights only one of the many pitfalls of this proposal.

    It has now reached the point where using one of the following reasons for a proposal is sufficient to reject the proposal immediately:
    a) Won’t someone think of the children!
    b) If it saves just one life.
    c) Terrorists.

  4. comet

    The ABC has some senior journos in current affairs programs, such as Four Corners.

    But ABC News 24 recently got rid of its senior journalists, encouraged by budget cuts made by the Coalition government.

    This is why ABC News 24 and it’s website equivalent are so vulnerable to being persuaded by a press release.

    So the place is being staffed by kids. Nobody grows old there. The young journalists must realise there’s no career path, as when they reach a level of experience and competence they will lose their jobs.

    So this is what the government called an ‘efficiency dividend’. News gathering by press release is more efficient and cost effective. Full marks to the ABC for this story.

  5. Fred Myers

    While I am not a great fan of the TSA in the USA, even in Australia, hand luggage does get examined (minus the smallest planes in the smallest airports) before entry is allowed to the boarding gates. In the USA, one of the conditions of passing through the carry-on exam, is that your boarding pass matches your photo ID. Extra delay at that point is minimal, though yes someone would need to pay the salary of those doing the document matching.
    In Hong Kong, there is a final check at the gate for matching documents. Though it is unlikely those are for domestic flights

    As long as flying under an invalid name is an offense, the IDs should be verified.


  6. stuaero

    Follow the Money

    The it is in the best interests of the security industry (both government and private entities) to create a need for their services.

    So as to ensure next years budget is suitably topped up they must demonstrate (ie create) a need for the extra dollars.

    Perhaps this is this years revenue creation idea to add to the existing smoke and mirrors pantomime we must (for our own sake of course) endure at airports.

  7. Norman Hanscombe

    A serious unreported case of hijacking is how the Crikey Commissariat and its loyal camp followers successfully hijacked whatever intellectual capacities they possessed without [due to their various political prejudices] even knowing it.
    Even the Crikey Censor was take for the ride.

  8. George Glass

    It is simply not true to assert that positive identification has no value. Read the September 11 Commission Report.Several of the hijackers were flagged by the system and nothing was done.Security agencies make most of their successful border interceptions and interruption of terrorist activity by monitoring and tracking individuals identified by “intent analysis”. (I prefer to call it good old fashioned profiling)The fact that journalists dont know or willfully ignore that it is happening for ideological reasons doesnt make it less effective.I know for a certain fact that the only reason both major Australian carriers dont insist on photo ID is commercial.Nobody wants to jump first.And nothing has happened in Oz. Yet.

  9. comet

    Terrorist hysteria. People are so easily sucked into the government propaganda.

    It’s like the communist hysteria of the 1950s. Come on people, wake up to yourselves. Try to operate your brain independently from the government.

    You should be able to freely move around your own country without being tracked and monitored.

    You have a right to communicate on a telephone or the internet without being monitored or your web surfing habits harvested.

    If every Australian was monitored everywhere within Australia, would it help the cops catch a crook? Maybe one or two.

    But bye bye democracy and welcome Stazi-like police state.

  10. ggm

    Although given that it was dog-whistle politics, I’m not convinced by the “omg: the added delay” argument or the “civil liberties” argument.

    I think thats a bit rubbish on both scores: you have to ID yourself to buy the ticket, having to ID yourself to use the ticket doesn’t add much. it adds two people at international in most overseas economies, to look at your ticket and passport and stamp or write on it if you have both and they agree. Does it erode civil liberties? More than having to show ID if you ride a bicycle in NSW?

    Yes. its security pantomime. But it also has some deterrance.

    Mind you, what it would do, is drive a truck through a number of peoples non-taxed “sure, you can fly on my frequent flyer miles” schemes.

  11. Letterboxfrog

    While I cannot do a value for money statement, if checkin was only via biometric endorsed ID (passport, Drivers Licence, etc.) it could be faster. Let the video robots do the rest linking back to biometrics repositories held by State and Fed governments, flagging non-endorsed people for a look-over, rather than the random inspections. This may make check-in faster!

    Robot big brother can watch over you, if we want him to. The technology exists.

  12. Ben Sandilands

    One of the problems with the sharing online society is that biometric passports, payment cards and some other RFID type identification or access cards are being copied.

    Mere photo matching isn’t enough. If we are going to be serious about establishing ID the system has to be able to determine that you really are the person you claim to be. While my biometric passport checks my details against a data base, and my face scan against the stored values, it fails to do so about half the time I present it, often at times when others using adjacent kiosks are also being given a redirection to a border officer. Even if you have an error rate of only one percent that could mean at Sydney Airport for example, 1000 mismatches a day, for a process that doesn’t actually make flight safer, or immune from a terror attack.

    The most effective way of intercepting people who ought not be allowed to fly appears to be the use of intelligence gathering, not robotic systems that are neither reliable nor infallible.

  13. derrida derider

    This is a bit harsh on the ABC. They’ve done a public service in reporting the views of this “security expert”. They’re telling us just how stupid and malevolent so many such experts are.

    Absent this report it would be much more likely that the people hiring this consultant would adopt his suggestions.

  14. Chris Randal

    Just proves that the terrorists really have won

  15. Norman Hanscombe

    It’s disappointing (though not unexpected) to find Crikey devotees still unable to understand that while this sort of chaos might occur were they running the checks, Australian Security Services are far more capable than the inhabitants of Crikey Land.

  16. Coaltopia

    The rate things are going – and law enforcement constantly pushing the envelope – you can bet this will come in.

  17. John Henry

    ” The ABC should have asked the question, who is lobbying for such a massive and pointless exercise in additional and invasive security checks at our airports and for what purpose?”

    Bingo! If they are bureaucrats, out them!
    If they are politicians, out them!
    If they are vested interest security contractors or the like, arrest them and lock them up until they agree to stop their lobbying nonsense.

  18. AR

    Mayan – you left out (d)welfare cheats & (e)BECAUSE!
    As has been constantly pointed out, there is only a single instance of a bomber ever being stopped at check-in (in 1970s in Tel Aviv due to Intelligence)- the theatre since 911 is nothing more than pretending to safeguard the public.
    The resources thus wasted would yield far more dividends deployed if spent on proper intelligence analysis.

  19. Bob the builder

    It’s not that hard to get fake ID if you have the contacts and the money – and which serious criminal wouldn’t?

    Even just easily faked docs can work – I know someone who found out at the last minute that they needed an onward ticket to be allowed to fly to their destination. Ten minutes on the laptop with a graphics editor and they had one modified from a genuine ticket – details entered and accepted on the airlines’ system.

    The more sophisticated the security, the more people believe anyone who gets the green light. Good fakes = golden key!

  20. Decorum

    Norman Hanscombe: you do realise that you have become pure troll now, yes? Any vestiges of thoughtful contribution have long gone – along with any pretence at such contribution, it seems – and now you post simply to insult people. Please: either mend your ways or just get back under the bridge and leave the billy goats alone.

    (Fellow users: I know this is gasoline to his sputtering ember, but I have to try. Once. I will shrug him off henceforth!)

  21. Dan Dair

    I’m not trying to say that the increased security checks have been a runaway success,
    but IMO, describing them as “pretending to safeguard the public” is extremely harsh.

    The fact is that terrorists have become more sophisticated.
    Equally, the extensive security checks have removed the ‘casual’ terrorist from gaining access to aircraft (or other places now subject to security checks).

    There remain many security-holes within the network which could be much better managed,
    as Ben so rightly points out, intelligence gathering & sharing is much more likely to yield positive results, than the idea that terrorists couldn’t obtain the fake e-documents necessary to pass muster & get them onto an aircraft for evil purposes.?

  22. comet

    I apologise for blaming young journalists for turning out trash stories without fact checking.

    This week I heard about the antics of an older journalist named Paul Sheehan, who Fairfax Media keeps in its cage. I think Ben would probably know him.

    Both Sheehan and the ABC story (above) try to scare readers about a perceived threat from Muslim people. But Sheehan gets my award for worst journalism of the year.


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