Monday, February 28, 2005

Privacy and Security

WARNING: This blog entry was imported from my old blog on (which used different blogging software), so formatting and links may not be correct.

James Gosling's latest blog entry points to John Gilmore's
fight for privacy, and in particular, airport rules. The requirement for all travellers to present IDs to fly helps security how exactly?

This story really struck a chord with me. A couple of months ago, I was going on a business trip from San Francisco airport. I had a million errands to get done before I left - so I brought my bills, envelopes and stamps to the airport. After checking in, I sat at the gate and filled out the payment slips. Then I figured I'd look for a mailbox. Surprise surprise - there are NO mailboxes ANYWHERE inside San Francisco airport. The only one is outside, on the curb! I thought this was unbelieavable - I have often mailed postcards to friends and family from airports while waiting for my flight. But when I talked to the security guards who were pointing me outside, they were telling me that this was for "security reasons".

That didn't make a lot of sense to me. I've brought the letters IN, THROUGH security. If there's a bomb, or anthrax or whatever in my letters, I've already got them with me, ready to take on board. How would having a mailbox for me to drop them in make for a security threat? What if I drop my letter in one of the thrashcans, or airport flower pots, instead?

Presented with this argument, the security guard just smiled and said knowingly "I wish I could tell you, sir, but this is classified and we don't want to give terrorists any ideas". So... I obviously don't have a mind made for terrorism because I can't figure it out.


  1. It prevents people in US Postal Service uniforms carrying large duffel bags from entering secure areas in airports. And it prevents the same people from pulling up to the curb with a truck full of packages, or going into the insecure areas with bags full of unidentified things.
    Make sense? Basically, if a USPS truck pulls up to an airport terminal door, or a postal employee tries to take objects in or out of a secure area, that should be a red flag. I'm pretty sure they have an office that collects and distributes mail internal to the airport, and the USPS simply drops off and picks up there.
    There's also the issue of dropping off contraband in pre-pepared envelopes coming off of flights, before going through customs. There are some airports where this could conceivably have been done in the past.

  2. Thanks. I still don't fully buy it. Clearly there shouldn't be a maildrop inside the customs area. But I don't think having USPS go through security and then pick up and carry packages -out- of the terminal would add any security risk. Likewise having a truck pull up to the airport is not a new terrorist risk; trucks are already able to pull up in front of large public gatherings (malls, highrise buildings, public demonstrations) today. And of course lots of service vehicles already pull up in front of the airport - vans dropping off passengers, food delivery, etc.

  3. It's the guy in the USPS uniform with the bag who is actually a terrorist who is the worry. Limit the number of "authorized" people, and you limit the number of ways trust can be violated.