Don't ask Syed Adam Ahmed about the airport. Normally shy but amiable, the six-year-old growls in frustration while his face clouds over like an oncoming hurricane.
The little hockey fan from Markham, Ont. is still extremely upset that he almost missed out on attending an NHL game in the U.S. because his name is the same of a person on Canada's so-called 'no-fly list,' which prevents individuals with suspected ties to terror from boarding planes.
This case of mistaken identity has plagued the family since Adam was a toddler, according to his mother, Khadija Cajee.
"We don't want him to grow up feeling like he's under suspicion for the rest of his life," says Cajee. "We feel like second class citizens because of this."
Ill-conceived measures, like the no-fly list must be made smarter so they do not target the innocent.
Since the Ahmed family went public with their story, 21 others have spoken up to say that they, too, have children wrongly identified by the no-fly list. Cajee knows of at least 20 more families who remain silent for fear of government, or public, reprisal. All have experienced security hassles and delays at Canadian airports and some have even missed flights. The problem is beyond the control of airlines, our sources tell us. Once a name is flagged, airport counter staff are locked out of the system until they call a government agency to have the block lifted.
However, Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale recently told CBC Radio he can't even say whether the no-fly list has ever actually prevented a real terror suspect from travelling.
Ill-conceived measures, like the no-fly list must be made smarter so they do not target the innocent. Otherwise, they have the ironic potential to actually erode our national security by alienating those they single out and stigmatize.
In late 2014, as media whipped up hysteria about Canadian youth leaving to join the Islamic State militia, we interviewed experts on how young people become radicalized. These experts point out that radicalization is not as great a problem here as in countries like France or Britain.
Over the past year, some 130 to 200 Canadians are known to have joined radical militias overseas, compared to more than 1,400 French and 1,600 UK citizens. Experts told us this is because Canada is a more inclusive society; immigrant and minority youth are less likely to feel alienated and powerless here -- emotions that radical recruiters exploit.
But the way the no-fly list works, with a total lack of transparency and overwhelmingly targeting just one group -- Muslims -- feelings of alienation and powerlessness are exactly what the no-fly list is causing.
When we uphold that spirit of inclusion, Canada thrives as a multicultural nation where others fail.
Zamir Khan's son Sebastien David is just 21 months-old. Like Adam, Sebastien was born in Canada but already he's been targeted at domestic airports five times. Khan, who lives with his family in London, Ont., says at first he thought it was funny, but the humour is rapidly fading. "You still feel stigmatized," said to us.
The toddlers' parents say they were told their son's name matches that of an adult on a government no-fly list. Regardless, Khan wants the ordeal to end. "I'm so glad our son is too young to know what's going on. He's Canadian through and through, but this will make him feel like an outsider."
Canadians were deservedly proud when international media gushed at the collective embrace Syrian refugees received from ordinary Canadians and political leaders alike upon their arrival at the end of last year. The country told these refugees: You are welcome; you are one of us now.
When we uphold that spirit of inclusion, Canada thrives as a multicultural nation where others fail.
Canada can improve the effectiveness of the list by adding biometric data, so children aren't penalized for having the same name as a terror suspect. And we can follow the U.S. example, ensuring there is an easy way for parents to get resolution when mistaken identities happen.
We believe an inclusive society can be as powerful a force for national security as any no-fly list.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.
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Security gets off to a weak start with the questions at check-in. Here’s a send-up version of the Q & A that I took off an anonymous blog, that reveals, I think, the farcical difficulties of the actual encounter: “Has anyone asked you to carry anything aboard this aircraft? (Yes, my mother and my girlfriend.) Has anyone asked you to pack something for them? (I packed a shirt for my wife, because she ran out of room in her suitcase.) Did you pack the bags yourself? (No, the butler did, but I don’t think he’s a threat.)” If you are smart, you will answer all these questions in the negative; otherwise you risk delay and, at minimum, ridicule. So the sensible thing to do is to lie. Setting up people to lie is not a good way to initiate security nor is it relaxing for anyone involved. The better model comes from the welcoming flight attendants who greet us as we come aboard, maybe asking how we are doing but actually looking out for trouble—who won’t be able to reach the overhead bin? Who is drunk? Doesn’t understand English? That’s the way to get things going. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
In the U.S. (but not most other parts of the world), we must take off our shoes. Shoes often have laces and there’s no easy way to untie them and get them off while in a line that slows and spurts in unpredictable ways. At least there could be a ledge, perhaps protruding from the table and counter bottoms, where a foot could be rested while undoing laces. This is a small matter, but it cumulates with other thoughtless impositions to create massively bad experiences. Rather than having been created for the security gate application, the equipment used at the gate derives from goods like restaurant supply paraphernalia. After 9-11, the TSA put dog food bowls to the task of holding our coins, pens, and other pocket metals. The trays where we place our laptops originate as dish-busing equipment, just as the shiny metal tables (without ledges) are also from the commercial kitchen. Maybe the dog bowls should have funnels for coins to roll out into one’s hands. Maybe the trays should be transparent to make it easier to see what is inside each one, an advantage to both passenger and TSA agent.
Given lacks in equipment, nobody is around to help make up the difference. TSA guards instruct, cajole, and riff through our stuff. They do not help an elderly person lift a suitcase on to the conveyer. They do not hold a pram while parents try to re-balance a fretting toddler on their shoulders. They do not hold jackets, crutches, canes or fragile items as the momentary needs arise. They do not offer suggestions for how to store a boarding pass or ID while reassembling all the rest of one’s gear. Either the TSA guards should have helping as part of their repertoire or there should be people assigned to the gates with helping as their specific task. This would not sacrifice intelligence but add to it. When you assist a person to “get ready,” you learn a lot about what is going on. Anyone who has helped children put on a jacket knows it is a learning experience for the helper. You discover if kids have a hurt arm, if they took a cookie, or if their body heat seems above normal. Touching people and their stuff in a helpful way, not just frisking them, is data rich. The fact that it might also do some good for fellow human beings is no small advantage. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden)
Quite ironically, check-in sometimes assembles a group larger than will ever be on a single plane. No bodies or luggage have been checked; everyone is exposed. Next comes the official security gate and another line, often the longest of all. This too is before scrutiny. Security itself, in other words, creates the target. All other things equal, the more intense the inspections, the longer will be the line, the exposure, and the time it will exist. Some TSA checkpoints show videos that instruct what comes next and this is good. But videos could also show the news or relaxing entertainment. Lines could be made fairer and less annoying by having electronic boards (like at Whole Foods Markets) to indicate who is next and where. But the best way to deal with lines is not have them at all. It is a great solution because it makes for a happier place even if nobody threatens anything. One good way to assure at least a short line is to give TSA workers authority to just let everyone through when back-ups start to occur. Given the very limited effectiveness of TSA screening in the first place, we gain by having fewer exposed to pre-boarding bombs as well as less irritation and psychological mayhem. Just let the people go. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, file)
The long check-list of forbidden items results not from expert weighing of danger, but from ad hoc notions from politicians, disaster movies, and whatever scheme the last crazy person used to try to inflict harm. So we have the shoes-off rule because of that shoe-bomber -- one guy, one time. Then came the underwear bomber who strapped explosives in his intimate body parts. In fact, the PETN compound he used does not show up in the scanning machines. Nevertheless we have whole-body body-imaging -- or “enhanced pat-down” on special request. Once on the plane, of course, it is easy enough to manufacture weapons; generations of prisoners have mastered the skills with much less to work with. Coke cans become lethal if disassembled into razor sharp metallic ribbons; seat belt webbing (and belts) can strangle; and glass, glass, glass – from duty free, from the pantry, and maybe the gift vase stored in the overhead bin – can all slice like box cutters. All the search for contraband takes up a lot of TSA time and uses resources that could go to other things, including more meaningful security measures. Sealing off the on-board crew was the single most important remedy. It means that the plane cannot be turned into a bomb. Now lighten up on the petty harassments like confiscating the OJ or my $3.00 bottle of water. Don’t make me really prove that in that baby bottle I got milk.
Folks fool around in real life, even with strangers and even on – maybe especially on – risqué topics. At security, one must be cautious. Making a gun, knife, or bomb joke is a special no-no. In a 2009 incident, a 30-year-old going to his own wedding was asked by a United flight attendant if he needed anything. He said, “No, I'm fine. I've got my shoe bomb -- I'm good.” He was removed and booked on a felony. In another incident, authorities arrested an Air France pilot who joked at JFK that he (also) had a bomb in his shoes -- with a resulting 12-hour delay of the New York-Paris flight. A transportation security administration spokesman told The New York Times, “We have zero tolerance for those kinds of comments.” Besides being natural to all cultures, joking is – like helping -- at least potentially a source of information. It can reveal, in a subtle way, intentions otherwise being masked and also, just as important, meanings that are utterly benign. Standard security operating procedure has a single and unvarying concept of what means trouble and what does not. Letting humor run its natural human course would be another source of intelligence: it tips off. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
Calm is the opposite of commotion and it is what security needs more of. Calm delivers a life benefit to passengers but it also helps make trouble more evident – whether trouble from contraband, a miscreant, or trouble in the form of an ailing person. Making everyone anxious makes it that much harder to pick out those who are anxious because they have something to hide rather than that they are just trying to get through the thing. As surfers well know, a shark in calm water is easier to spot than a shark in rough seas. So even within narrow conventions of surveillance security, calm is best. So security might also come from use of restful colors, music and even scent. Voices might be mellifluous and objects gently moved from place to place with sounds muffled by rubberized surfaces. Some airports have public art programs that go some way toward bringing in part of normal life to at least the concourse areas. In the US, San Francisco’s has vitrines of wonderful objects lining the corridors and along the moving walkways -- like the mechanism that moved multitudes past Michelangelo’s on-loan “Pieta” at the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens. It is a version of providing a “nudge,” in which people are not forced to obey, but encouraged to make desirable choices from the standpoint of convenience, pleasure, and good order. (Wikimedia/Public Domain)
The usual clumsiness of the whole apparatus reflects a general lack of design. At a time when the common toothbrush is subject to focus groups and teams of ergonomic and stylistic experts, security stuff gets no such attention. In 2009, TSA hired the prominent design firm IDEO to develop prototypes to improve both physical design and staff repertoires (the shark analogy was part of their presentation to TSA). Other than a trial set-up at Baltimore-Washington International, I could find no evidence of implementation. I did learn from former top TSA officials that anything like design tended not even to occur to those running DHS or TSA. As the IDEO project unfolded, the very word “design” and some of IDEO’s other terminology – like “customer engagement” put off some officials and politicians. The IDEO people proffered terms like “composing lily pads” and “rejuvenating send-off” as security gate concepts—not exactly winners for military minds. A professional design reconfiguration would bring more than a well-placed spout or a footrest. Product and systems designers, knowing all the tricks of the trade, could reconfigure the entire process and each of its elements. There would be complementarity between all elements, including staff training along with reform of the artifacts. It would mean paying rigorous attention to people’s real needs and to more than a compulsion to herd and command everyone into protocol submission.
Although security is supposed to benefit all alike and we are all supposed to sacrifice in its name, some are made to sacrifice more than others. Privileged passengers may have special expedited lanes. Anecdotally, I’m told there is greater leeway for fudging the rules, like being able to take liquor and make-up through the gate when flying first. New programs are being initiated for “trusted travelers.” After paying a fee, filling out forms on the web, and taking care of other formalities (in some versions requiring an interview at the airport), one gains the elevated status of being spared a lot of the hassles (shoes can be left on, for example). This means there will also be, by definition, “untrusted travelers.” The hoi polio will face the old gauntlet alone, without the comradely clout of their former high-end fellow-sufferers. In the business and first class lounges there are even now no loudspeaker reminders to stay with your stuff so people scatter their suitcases and belongings across the rooms and cubbies of the facility. Once on board, the privileged few have their own toilets. A flight attendant announces that everyone (rich and poor alike) should use only the lavatories designated for their cabin area “for the sake of security,” as it is sometimes broadcast throughout the plane. More toilets would be decent and so would a let-up on the special security screws now imposed on the ordinary traveler on board and off. AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Air travel is our most notorious security apparatus (for those of us not in full-time prison) but it is mimicked by other organizations as the way to “do something” in the never-ending war on terror. So in the New York subways, for example, there are periodic set-ups of inspection tables where passengers are asked to submit their packages and luggage for police to go through. Given that the subway has over 400 stations, each with numbers of entries, this is transparently nonsense. Equally silly are the sniffing dogs and gun-toting soldiers: as in synch with the airport goings on, not a single person has been charged with terror as a result of all these inspections. Meanwhile, any car driver can mow down innocent people at pedestrian thoroughfares all over America. We avoid facing that problem because it would be too awkward to take on, just like the problem of searching air passengers before they can get to the guards at the gates. A security apparatus happens, this implies, not because it secures but because it is feasible to set up. Meanwhile it obscures the fact that our safety remains, in the main and in most all circumstances, with each other: people who smell smoke, who sense a drowning child, who jump to the tracks to save a person who falls in. Day in and day out, and free of charge, the solution is in place, relying only (but fully) on the mutual regard we have for one another. Sustaining that regard should also be thought of as a security effort. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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