As part of their corporate philosophy of introducing children to real life, several years ago, a German toymaker introduced a whimsical toy to help preschool jet-setters cope with the realities of post 9/11 travel. When my wife tracked down one of Playmobil’s more controversial toys on eBay for my Christmas present, she couldn’t have known how appropriate it would be. About the time we were opening our stockings, an airplane passenger was allegedly (as the news media is forced to word it) trying to blow up his underwear–and a jetliner.
As I’ve experienced in several domestic flights over the last few weeks, this incident, or perhaps more precisely, the hue and cries were generated by the media coverage of this incident, have resulted in an increase in the apparent level of security effort. Studies have been conducted, pledges made, and the result will be a larger impact on the fliers, and greater expenditures. My expectation is that any useful level of marginal improvement in safety, though, will be virtually impossible.
As analyzed in an entertaining and informative December 27 post by Nate Silver, The Odds of Airborne Terror, over the past decade, “there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 miles flown.“ Approximately every 16 and a half million flights has had a terrorist incident, including 9/11, including the Shoe Bomber, and including the Christmas Pants Bomber. Any incremental improvement will require huge levels of effort.
Corporate security practitioners are like politicians in that they are confronted with no-win situations. It is simultaneously expected that they will not only prevent all bad things from happening, but they will do it on a limited budget. The political significance of information security becomes even greater as agencies, institutions and corporations are increasingly subject to expectation and regulation pertaining to privacy-relevant data. No one wants their health care, their privacy or their personal safety ‘rationed’. Nor does anyone want their freedom restricted, or their budget appropriated.
Decisions about safety are often very arbitrary, and there are plenty of well-reasoned explanations as to why airport security is especially so. Unfortunately, this is a public policy issue accomodating multiple expectations, including the reassurance of a public that has been conditioned to demand protection. Our challenge in the corporate space is also political, but often of the opposite nature. We are often dealing with a ‘public’ that considers any restriction on their flexibility to be a form of overprotection.