Airport Focus Editor Gary Mason on this month’s news
The term “airport-style security” has entered the English language to describe a process that denotes routine inconvenience, token interventions and an obligatory add-on cost to a host of public space happenings including conferences, entertainment and sporting events and festivals of one kind and another.
For visitors it is just about the first thing they see when they arrive at a given venue and is rarely a welcome or even reassuring sight. They join a long of line of people queuing to gain entry in front of a temporary encampment of uniform staff and machine barriers. They put their laptops, mobile phones, wallets, coins, watches, belts and shoes into a plastic box and then walk through a metal arch. If the alarm sounds a man or woman will either subject them to a manual search or use a hand held device to do the same job. The customer will then often be asked to walk around and re-enter the arch before being cleared to pick up their belongings.
As a journalist I attend numerous conferences and events – some with a higher security-related risk than others – but would argue that this type of screening has become almost common-place. The question that needs answering is why? Event organisers will inevitably point to the threat from terrorism and it has become fashionable to accept those three words without any further explanation as self-evident justification for measures that only the fool-hardy would question.
I recently attended an event that had a law enforcement/security audience. Those attending were largely pre-invited and pre-screened because you had to provide proof of identification before being sent the link that would provide the barcoded badge that would allow entry to the event.
At 8.30am on the opening morning of the conference there was a huge line of people waiting in front of the security area and staff were becoming agitated and panicky. Proceedings were due to start at 8.45 and they had obviously been told to speed the process up. As I approached the barrier delegates were being encouraged to put their belongings in trays but not given time to do it thoroughly. As a consequence almost every person was triggering the alarm as they walked through the arch and very few of them were searched afterwards.
Airport security staff would point out that this would never be allowed to happen whatever the pressure on queuing times/missed flights etc. But is the airport security process considerably less cursory or predictable and considerably more sophisticated and effective?