The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Month: June, 2010

Well thought out airport security checks

In light of Paul Chambers this is possibly the riskiest post on this blog. What follows are criticisms of the security services (not the real Security Service, just airport staff, I’m not crazy), comments about holes in security processes and the word “blow” is used repeatedly in various different contexts. I can only hope and pray that Scotland’s public interest differs from England’s.

Disclosure:

I think a lot of airport security is a bit of a farce designed to look busy with little to no protective value. The images in this post are cropped, but otherwise unedited, screenshots taken from the security pages at www.glasgowairport.com and it really does say these things on the site.

I like security

I’m going away on my holidays soon and I was looking up the airport baggage restrictions so I’m not forced to post my luggage home or something. I’ve written about the restriction on liquids for the blog before which I consider a particularly ridiculous piece of security theatre.

The big reason I find it so offensive is that I most definitely would like my life to be protected from people who want to blow up my plane, and if my life is on the line I don’t want stupid rules about taking your shoes off and only buying drinks after you’re through the scanners when they could actually be doing something else that might save my life. Other reasons include generally not liking stupidity, or being hassled unnecessarily (“will you remove your shoes?” “why?” “in case you blow them up”) and the mind boggling costs involved in stupidly hassling people unnecessarily.

The 100 ml rule

Generally in any kind of security, computer or airport, somewhere in the middle is both the natural compromise and the worst option – it’s neither particularly convenient nor particularly safe. The 100 ml rule is a classic example of this.

As far as liquids being dangerous and the “100 ml rule” are concerned there are only two possible questions raised – either:

  1. Liquids, gels and pastes are dangerous. In that case why are you allowed to take them onto a plane with other people? (No one’s allowed to take 100ml of gunpowder in a clear plastic bag) or,
  2. Liquids, gels and pastes aren’t dangerous. Well, in this case why aren’t you allowed to bring as much as you like? (After all, lots of Scottish ex-pats would like to blow their weight allowance on Irn Bru)

I also don’t understand why 100ml of liquid, gel or paste explosive wouldn’t be enough to make a big bang or why terrorists couldn’t organise and pool their 100ml bottles together to make a bigger bang? Also, why are liquids only dangerous if you have them in carry-on? You can have your entire weight limit in liquid explosive stowed in the hold (it’s against the airline rules on explosives but, after all, you are a terrorist) that’s simply not looked at or tasted.

Tasted?

There’s some serious problems with the testing scheme as well:

This goes for baby milk and medicines, I’m not sure if it covers human/animal liquids or toiletries or perfumes but there’s kinda no reason why it wouldn’t.

Firstly, just tasting something isn’t actually a test for anything. In every movie where a cop sticks his finger in the white powder and tries a bit he then sends it to an actual forensic lab to be looked at properly. “I stuck my finger in it and had a bit” is never going to stand up in court. All you’re testing there is if someone will drink weird things out of a bottle if you ask them to. That’s a game very drunk students play.

Secondly, I don’t know if anyone’s realised this but I think, if I was planning to blow up a plane that I was on, then risking poisoning to convince the security guy to let me on the plane would be a total no-brainer. However, if I was on medicine and I was ordered to take a dose (or possibly more than a dose) outside of my prescription to prove to a guy with a plastic nametag and no medical degree that it was medicine I’d need to say no. The suicide bomber would be the one you’d let on the plane.

Baby milk

You’re expected to open and taste a full half of your baby milk. That’s just a weird policy – again, if baby milk is potentially dangerous you should damn well test it all if it’s going on my plane and if it’s not dangerous why are you testing any of it? Half is just not the right amount of testing to do.

The irritating thing to remember when looking at this rule is just how reasonable and common sense some of the restrictions are – no grenades, for example. That’s perfectly fine by me, I’m all for keeping grenades off planes.

And finally

…there are crazy things like this:

Seriously, they make you drink-test your medicine cabinet and breast milk from little bottles in a clear plastic bag but you get to take a pressurised gas cigarette lighter on board a non-smoking flight. Weirdly you only get to take one – yet again, if it’s dangerous why let any on at all and if it’s not dangerous why can’t you take two?

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Strategic defence review hamstrung before it even starts

It is a “risk calculus”, it’s true and we should accept this however something has to change if we’re in an era when military advisors can tap the side of their nose and say “you never know” when journalists ask what exactly they’re spending forty five billion pounds a year defending us from. It’s a number so big you have to write it out or it doesn’t register.

There is a huge vested interest in the arms industry and there’s really nothing that cannot be justified if you say it’s in the interests of national security. However it’s completely ridiculous to just pour money at something on the off chance it happens in the future. You’re in trouble if you start doing that anywhere else – there has been huge outrage at the amount of vaccine and antiviral drugs that were stockpiled to deal with swine flu that turned out to be unnecessary even though it would have saved millions of lives if they had been needed. Yet, even then, considerably larger amounts of money are spent making sure we’ve got enough Eurofighters so we’re able to adequately shoot down the military jets that our enemies just don’t have.

There is always a problem of “fighting the last battle” because that’s really all you can be sure of – evidence based defence policy is really pretty tricky stuff. Obviously I’d still like evidence based policy to come into defence because the current policy of “I have a (generally faulty) kind of outdated product I’d like you to finance the production of and then buy” is killing us financially. The lack of evidence from the future is why you have ludicrously unhelpful naked body scans and liquid restrictions at airports – 9 years ago some terrorists hijacked a plane and no one wants it to happen again. The problem is that you never want to be the guy who relaxed the restrictions, just in case a plane blows up the next minute and you have egg on your face so it becomes a persistent challenge to be tougher than the guy before you.

That’s why Britain is planning to spend up to (some say at least) one hundred billion pounds on a nuclear deterrent. We’re never actually going to fire it, and no one thinks we’re going to, but having it scares off the Soviet Union. I’m not convinced it actually scares off suicide bombers (the hint’s in the name) that are pretty much the only big ticket enemy that’s attacked British soil this century.

That is why it is crazy that Trident is not included in this year’s strategic defence review. It’s absolutely crazy to earmark the biggest expense and something that just sits around being there and then argue that everything else that’s cheaper has to be more efficient.

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Fox attack baby returns home…

From the Sun

A police support officer remained on guard outside the house last night.

To police guard? Wait, what?

This was a horrible story about an urban fox that had snuck in an open patio door unnoticed, found a bedroom with two sleeping babies in it and attacked them. It’s horrific but the root cause was basically fixed once you threw the fox out and shut the door. Beyond needing to do something what is the police guard possibly going to achieve there? You’ve basically just tied up a police officer for a week or two until the press get bored.

“Asking for it”

It’s very important to note that the full facts of the Israel Flotilla situation are not clear and it is unlikely, given the amount of emotion that it has generated, that it will ever be fully known. I wasn’t on the ship so I have no idea what went on but I do await an independent inquiry. Personally it stinks to me, there are a lot of broad criticisms that “international law isn’t real law” but that doesn’t apply here, the two big areas of international law that are enforced and people follow are how to treat diplomats and how to treat shipping. No one ignores Vienna because you don’t want your own diplomats hassled in return and the same applies for shipping. You have to go a really long way to be able to justifiably board foreign flagged, civilian ships transporting aid to your enemy. It’s a presumption that shipping shouldn’t get messed with and really you have to prove why you should be able to rather than other people proving you shouldn’t.

That said, I think it is weird that so much is made about if the ship should have been there or not. The implication seems to be is if the ship shouldn’t have been there, if what it was carrying was bad, its mission was inflammatory or if they were violent when boarded then the boarding, shooting etc was justified. I think firstly that last one’s arguing from the consequences but secondly the earlier ones are also forms of the they were asking for it defence.

It’s a strange argument that crops up in quite a few areas – for example non-consensual sex is often “distinguished” from rape on the basis that the victim was asking for it. I’m not convinced this is much of an argument, even if you really were asking for it. In consent based crimes literally asking for it’s a pretty good legal place to be (this is called giving consent) but, for example, if it’s dressing provocatively then it’s not really you asking for it. In intention based crimes it’s even less helpful – a bank robber who kills a hostage who says “shoot me instead” isn’t going to get off. The idea is simply that a bank robber shouldn’t shoot anyone whether they’re asking it for it or not. Part of living in a functional society is learning to not shoot the people you think are asking for it because eventually everyone would get shot at least once (even if just in self defence).

In this case the formal name for the asking for it defence is a red herring – it diverts attention from the original question. The answer to “was Israel right to have landed soldiers on the ship” isn’t “what was the ship doing there in the first place?” it’s really a qualitative opinion along the lines of “yes” or “no”. Similarly “was X right to have non-consensual penetrative intercourse with Y” isn’t answered with “did Y accept a free drink from X?” It’s fairly subtle and superficially seems on topic but it’s a digression all the same. The ethical guideline is that you don’t get to do bad things to people just because they’ve done bad things themselves, and logically if that was the case that would just mean that other people are allowed to do bad things to you (and no normal person thinks this). This is the general argument for why burglars don’t leave their human rights at the door.

That’s not to say that asking for it is not a good argument in some cases. It is an established principle in delict (tort if you’re a big silly and aren’t Scottish) that no actionable injury results from one who puts themselves into a dangerous situation and sustains reasonably foreseeable harm (so, for example, if you are injured during a tackle while playing football you can’t sue the other player whereas if he pulls out a gun and shoots you you can). So if you actually are asking for it you generally can’t sue for damages later on. Where you can pull it out is quite limited, by virtue of being a consent based defence, because it’s not enough to just know it’s dangerous but you have to actually consent to being hurt and that’s quite tough. Generally people use contributory negligence to be an easier form of this. It’s of limited use in criminal law and, for example, there are a large number of cases where wholly consensual sadomasochism was judged to be ABH (and in R v Brown the victims were even judged to be aiding and abetting their own actual bodily harm, which possibly reflects attitudes to homosexuality rather than, y’know, justice)

The interesting thing about this is that the asking for it defence isn’t even a particularly thorny issue and if you ask them directly people generally accept that raped women don’t actually ask for it, but that it is so intuitively attractive. People like a good guy and a bad guy and stories where both people are, if not actually as bad as each other, at least lacking clean hands are just depressing. We like to go “well, that burglar shouldn’t have been robbing the house, give him both barrels” when really it’s important to stop and say “why should the other man have given him both barrels?” This is why people like making up brutal things to do to paedophiles or terrorists, it’s easy.

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Apple iPad

Here’s one that’s been sitting my drafts for a fair while so here is some light of day for it.

Apple has released a new internet device yesterday (relative to when this was written) which has pretty much filled Twitter ever since. You have probably heard of this if you used the internet in the last year or so.

I particularly like the built in iBooks program. I actually own an iBook so I find this slightly confusing, the iBook was a laptop and iBooks is an online ebook store. I really think that having such a big player in the market will really change what we see in the ebook market. I hope it means that we will have the sort of really amazing media features that you can do with computer technology. The New York Times has already shown off an application where you can read their newspaper and have inline video content. I think that’s really very impressive. Apple is not a publishing company, it wants to sell books so that people have a reason to buy their iPad device. Therefore things which are good for selling the iPad will be pushed for. I think that bodes well for user experience and possibly price if not necessarily choice. Also they’re selling them in ePub format and more stores should do that.

There’s been a real internet backlash against it. I think this is probably because it’s been the single biggest tech story of the decade. The “Apple Tablet” was the big non-surprise of the year. People expected it to just about make your tea for you. The main complaint is that it’s just a big iPhone. I think this seems to forget that people really like their iPhones. Saying something is just a bigger pile of happy drugs won’t mean it isn’t awesome.

I think the comments that the name is stupid because it sounds like a feminine hygiene product are just facile. That gives the anti Mac brigade a bad name. When it says pad think “of paper” and “oh, that’s a play on iPod” not “that’s a lady thing” and snigger to yourself. It’s not a good look.

I haven’t used one (of course I haven’t) but I think it goes without saying that it will sell like hot cakes and some market will be affected by it. But I went to the Glasgow Apple store on launch day and I have used one by now – it’s smooth and very impressive. I didn’t get one, I didn’t see the need it would satisfy and I’m not earning enough just now to spend £400 on fun things.

The big news is that they’ve ported iWork to the new device which means that you can actually do pretty honest work on what is primarily a music, book, movie and photo browsing device. I don’t know how much work will be done on it but the potential is there and that’s a good reason to consider buying it. I think that you shouldn’t buy it just to make documents in iWork (especially if you have a laptop already) but that it is a nice to have feature, a little bit like how my phone works as a torch in a pinch.

The Guardian has come out yesterday (relative to when this post was posted) with a scathing review about how it’s so expensive to buy the big model. I’m a big fan of having quite small storage in my mobile devices (2GB seems to work well for my phone and mp3 player) because it’s massively cheaper and there is a genuine limit for how material much you can physically consume in the periods between plugging it back into your computer to charge it up anyway. I think at around £700 for the ultra high end 64GB model with 3G and GPS it’s nice if you have the money but it’s not going to be any better that the small model. I personally don’t see the benefit in getting the 3G upgrade but I can see how it would be useful to a certain group of people (lorry drivers are experimenting using it as a huge satnav for example).

It just seems like a very expensive way to be connected on the move but, then again, it’s a £400-£700 internet appliance so frugality isn’t the overarching principle to begin with.

From Twitter

As spotted on @antonvowl: