Apple Technology Thoughts

Is that a laptop in your bag ?

X-Ray of Powerbook

Peter Cochrane this week in his blog, talks about the potential of technology such as Iris scanning to spend up the process of security checks at airports.

As someone who has passed through Heathrow a couple of times in the last month, what I want to understand is what has gone wrong with the x-ray machines, that laptops now need to be screened outside of their bags. The BAA website is now warning of the potential delays caused by the change.

I know this has been the case in the USA since 9/11, but then the TSA also x-ray your shoes and confiscate plastic toy dinosaurs !!

You would think with the sophistication of modern x-ray machines a few millimetres of nylon bag would not confuse them – or maybe I’m missing something ?

Written and submitted from the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dubai, using the hotels broadband connection.

5 replies on “Is that a laptop in your bag ?”

Good point Ed!

I often wondered that. In Germany, they make us take off our belts. It can get pretty funny sometimes. One time I watched as a passengers pants slid down – usally happens when their arms are raised to get the wand thingie.

If you find out about the computer thing, let us know.

In the US last year, immigration held me up for 1 hour because my fingerprint matched that of someone already in the country – but the face didn’t quite fit… Legitimate passports don’t seem to count anymore?

Amsterdam Airport has iris scanners to replace passport control, they seem to work quite fast & efficiently, especially when viewed from the traditional passport queue which I was stuck in at least 12 times last year… To subscribe to this service however costs about 120 euros per year – not really worth it unless the queue swells to American-style XL size.

Enjoy Dubai… Some people have all the fun.

Cochrane makes — implicitly, because he never really states what the security is supposed to be for — several common errors. Iris scanning can only be used to determine who a person is, not whether they’re planning an atrocity; it can be used to pick out known terrorists from a stream of people (assuming they don’t take precautions to protect themselves from identification), but if we knew who the terrorists were, this whole War On Terror business would be a lot easier anyway, wouldn it?

He also complains that, “the same amount of security energy is applied to everyone”; he would prefer that people who match his stereotype of a potential terrorist (i.e., “brown people”, probably) ought to be stopped while he is allowed to walk through unharrassed. And he’s quite right that this would be more convenient for him. Of course, if you decide that there’s some class of people who will be subject to less stringent checks (in this case, middle-class, middle-aged white people), that means that the terrorists have an incentive to recruit (or otherwise press into service) people who fall into that category.

Airport security screening is a bit of a waste of time anyway — when did you last hear about a bomb being discovered by an X-ray machine before it was put on an aeroplane? — but applying it in a discriminatory fashion isn’t going to win you anything. And yes, biometrics are neat when they work (though you don’t have to be a privacy nut like me to be worried about the possible applications of mass deployment of iris scans) but the fact that a technology can answer one specific question accurately (“does this image contain an iris pattern we’ve seen before?”) doesn’t mean that its answers are transferrable to other, unrelated, questions (“is this person trying to blow up an aeroplane?”).


How much do you think the whole x-ray business is there to reassure passengers that everything is safe, and they need not worry. I am not arguing that there should be no security – but returning from Dubai, I went through security no less than three times, before check-in, going air-side, and then again at the gate…


I think its effect is largely of reassurance (and irritation with a frisson of fear) but I don’t think the people in charge are actually cynical enough to have set it up for that purpose alone; but who — in these troubled times we live in today — is going to argue for less airport security?

I went to Dubai a couple of years ago, and on the way back encountered, as you describe, three layers of security. In the duty free shopping area between the second and third layers, it was possible to buy kitchen appliances, including food processors with damn great blades which could no doubt be adapted by an evil person for hijacking an aeroplane. When queuing for the gate to get into the departure lounge, I noticed that the person ahead of us in the queue, who was being made to remove successive items from his pockets, then his shoes, then his belt before finally being given the all-clear by the metal detector, was the pilot of the aeroplane! If the pilot wanted to destroy the ‘plane, he surely wouldn’t need to smuggle a weapon on board to do so!

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