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4:49pm on Tuesday, 6th April, 2010:

Some Security Revisited


I mentioned last year that my knife-containing pocket tool set passed through half a dozen airport scanners with no problem. Those were European scanners, though; this trip, I'm going to the USA. The USA's scanners aren't as up-market as European scanners, but when they do find something they could well go nuts. I was once hauled up for carrying an open Cadbury's Dairy Milk chocolate bar in my hand luggage, which they suspected was dangerous but wouldn't let me eat it to prove it wasn't in case it was poisoned and I was trying to kill myself to avoid interrogation.

The security was indeed a bit tighter this time round. They checked that I'd filled in the electronic visa application form; the girl in fron of me in the check-in line (a 30-minute long line) hadn't and was told to go do it "downstairs" then rejoin the line at the back. I was asked to empty my pockets in the check-in line, and my Swisscard tool set came to light. One of its elements in particular was identified as being too dangerous to take on board the flight. I was told I had to put it in my bag and check my bag; I said that I wasn't going to check my bag, I only have hand luggage. I was advised that if I didn't, the card would be confiscated. I asked if the person asking me had authority to confiscate it. I was told she didn't, but that the security people did and would. I said I'd take my chances.

When it came to the X-day machine, my jacket was indeed pulled aside and the pockets emptied by a professional pockets-emptier. She found my Swisscard, which is unsurprising as the X-ray operator had told her that this is what had set off her alarm bells. The security woman identified a potentially dangerous component of the card — the very same one that the officious visa-checker had identified in the check-in line. She did, however, have discretionary powers to allow me to take in on board, and because she was actually a quite likeable and common-sense sort of person decicded to let me take it.

Here's a photo of my card, which I took just now (I'm in the air somewhere over the East Coast of the USA). See if you can identify the dangerous component:

It's the tweezers. Rather than risk having the knife taken off me, I left that at home. It seems that "Swisscards" are defined as being dangerous on some list, but not in terms of their components. It's just assumed that they have a knife in them. If they don't, then the next most sharp object must be the reason to reject them; this would be the tweezers. The officious uniformed woman in the check-in queue decided they were; the unofficious uniformed woman in the security section decided they weren't.

I thought I'd blog this now, rather than when I was in Atlanta laying over for a few hours, in case the US border agencies tended towards the tweezers-are-dangerous school of thought, and took them off me before I could show you them. They'd have to take the metal clip off my pen, too, because that's pretty much the same thing only sharper on its internal edge.

I wonder if, were I to shatter the glass on this laptop, I could get a nice, jagged blade out of it?

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Copyright © 2010 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).