Yesterday was another opportunity to fly without presenting any ID at the airport. The man at the US Airways counter didn’t give me much trouble beyond the puzzled look and a few questions about how it’s possible to not travel with ID. Going through security was easier this time than last time as they did not frisk me, but they did give me a little bit of trouble while going through my bag.
The first item that got me a few questions was my all metal mechanical pencil (click here for a review). As you can see in the review, the pencil is quite heavy and solid, so I can understand their complaints. In the end, they did not take it away. What was more amusing, was the concern that the two security guys had over my laptop. I currently am missing 1 key off the keyboard from switching the layout to Dvorak (I still have the key, but need to modify it for it to go back on). The guard spent a minute looking at the missing key to see if there were any apparent modifications to the laptop, when he noticed that the keys were not in the right places. He had never heard of the Dvorak layout and, apparently, did not know that layouts other than qwerty existed. I guess my explanations of a more efficient layout were not good enough, and they asked me to turn the laptop on to verify that the “internals have not been modified”. I really wanted to tell them that I have modified the internals, but discretion got the better of me. So I turn the laptop on, and they get to see LILO in all its glory boot Gentoo. Although they were satisfied that the machine was operational, they were not happy that it was using software that they had never heard of. I explained what an operating system was to them and the difference between Windows and Linux, but I don’t think I cleared much in their minds. To see their reaction, I refused to login to the machine when they asked, which prompted them to bring aver their supervisor (an actual TSA agent rather than hired security). I explained the whole Dvorak and Linux thing to the supervisor, who seemed to be a little more understanding. She felt that turning the computer on was enough and let me go.
The trip through security was relatively painless despite the issues that they had with my computer. I think that this shows that there is a fundamental lack of understanding of how computers and electronics in general work. If I had told the security that I was an electrical engineering student, I’m sure that they would have given me more of a problem with the computer. If security really wants to deal with modern electronic threats, they need to start educating their guards in the matter. There are much more dangerous things than Linux that can be brought onto an airplane, not to mention things that are much less conspicuous than a laptop running totally unfamiliar software. Something that comes to mind would be a radio jamming device that could easily be concealed within an operational laptop, calculator, etc. I understand that I am in a much different position than many people who do not use such electronics everyday, but if people are going to spend billions of dollars on security, shouldn’t they actually be familiar with the kinds of threats that can occur? Or, perhaps, it is just the notion of “security” that is the aim. It is clear to me that actual security is trivial, a superficial glaze is all that is necessary to make people feel safe. Personally, I think the fear that people have in regards to air travel security is absurd, so maybe its a good thing that there still is no real security at the airports. Life is hazardous to your health. Deal.