Stupid Security 2006 call for nominees

Privacy International has opened up their Stupid Security 2006 contest with a call for nominees. If you aren’t familiar with the contest, I recommend looking back at the 2003 winners (the last year the contest was held).

Here’s some background for this year’s contest.

We’ve all been there. Standing for ages in a security line at an inconsequential office building only to be given a security pass that a high school student could have faked. Or being forced to produce photo ID for even the most innocent activity.

(long article follows)

If you thought after Enron that the accountancy profession was bad news, just wait till you hear how terrible the security industry has become. Even before the recent “liquid bomb” scare a whole army of bumbling amateurs has taken it upon themselves to figure out pointless, annoying, intrusive, illusory and just plain stupid measures to “protect” our security.

Stupid security has become a global menace. From the airport that this month emptied out a full plane because a passenger was drinking from a lemonade bottle, to the British schools that fingerprint their children to “stop” the theft of library books, to the airline company that refused to allow passengers to bring books or magazines onto the plane, the world has become infested with bumptious administrators competing to hinder or harass us – and often for no good reason whatever.

The sensitive and sensible folk at Privacy International have endured enough of this treatment. So we are running an international competition to discover the world’s most pointless, intrusive, stupid and self-serving security measures.

The “Stupid Security Awards” aim to highlight the absurdities of the security industry. Privacy International’s director, Simon Davies, said his group had taken the initiative because of “innumerable” security initiatives around the world that had absolutely no genuine security benefit. The awards were first staged in 2003 and attracted over 5,000 nominations. This will be the second competition in the series.

“The situation has become ridiculous” said Mr Davies. “Security has become the smokescreen for incompetent and robotic managers the world over”.

Unworkable security practices and illusory security measures do nothing to help issues of real public concern. They only hinder the public, intrude unnecessary into our private lives and often reduce us to the status of cattle.

The airline industry is the most prominent offender, but it is not alone. Consider the UK rail company that banned train-spotters on the grounds of security (e.g. see this article(external). Or the security desk of a US office building that complained because paramedics rushing to attend a heart-attack victim had failed to sign-in. Or the metro company that installed a $20,000 biological weapons/gas detector and placed it openly next to a power plug so terrorists could conveniently unplug the device.

And if that doesn’t make it just perfectly clear to you, how about I put up some of the previous contest’s winners.

Winner – T-Mobile (UK)

I think the stupidest security measure I have come across recently has to be T-Mobile with its attitude to paying for top-ups by credit card.

After recieving a mobile as a present I topped it up by credit card. I attempted to do the same a week later and was informed that users could only use the credit card top-up method once till their identity had been verified. I pointed out that the phone was registered to me as was the credit card, but they had a better idea. I had to send two credit card bills along with the details of my phone (number, service provider etc) to T-Mobile. It occured to me that if this package disappeared from the post it would be an ideal launching point for identity theft.

It seems strange that anyone would want to covertly top up my phone, but who knows……..

Or this one, which made me chuckle.


Shortly after Richard Reid’s attempt to light his shoes, I boarded a flight from San Francisco to London on British Airways.

Travelling alone, I was singled out by the computer for further inspection. The polite inspector informed me that he had to check my shoes for explosives.

I dutifully removed them and handed them to him. He picked them up one by one and slammed them down on the floor with full force.

Apparently, as they hadn’t exploded, they were not dangerous, and he handed them back to me to put back on.

Let this be a warning to future terrorists. Your explosive shoes may go off in the crowded departure lounge instead of on board the plane.

And the most absurd one in my eyes:


News article

Airport Screeners Order Mom to Drink Breast Milk

By Carl Limbacher

Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2002 10:27 a.m. EDT

In the latest in a series of airport security nightmares, a woman flying from New York to Florida was forced to drink three bottles of her own breast milk before being allowed to board a flight at JFK International Airport – in an incident that has one prominent New York civil rights attorney ready to sue.

Elizabeth McGarry of Oceanside, N.Y., called WABC Radio’s Curtis Sliwa and Ron Kuby Tuesday morning to relate the story.

Guards at JFK’s Delta terminal first “patted me down and made me take my shoes off,” McGanny told the morning radio duo. “One security guard took my 4-month-old out of my arms and then they went through the baby’s diaper bag.”

There the guards discovered the three suspect bottles, McGanny said, and promptly ordered her to drink the contents.

“I’m not drinking that. It’s breast milk,” she replied. “They said, ‘Either drink all three bottles or you’re not getting on the plane.'”

McGanny said that when she asked the guards why they were putting her through the ordeal, they explained, “There could be explosives in the baby bottles and I could throw something at the stewardesses.”

” I asked them if I could just taste it; if I could just show them how you would check a baby’s bottle – that it was warm milk and everything. And they said, ‘No,'” ordering her to “drink it all.”

The nursing mom then offered to feed the milk to her baby as the guards looked on, but they refused.

After hearing the tale, Kuby, who doubles as one of New York’s most-celebrated civil rights attorneys, suggested that McGanny call his office.

” How much money do you smell here?” Sliwa asked his radio partner.

” If I get a jury of nursing mothers – a lot,” Kuby replied.

And plenty more on the 2003 winners’ page.

[tags]Stupid security 2006 call for nominees, Stupid security makes the world go WTF?[/tags]