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So...does any of this actually make anybody safer?
Don't count on it.
TSA checkpoints at airports are rightly mocked for providing security theater—lots of show with no improved safety. The Department of Homeland Security's Inspector General, the Government Accountability Office, and private researchers have all called out the TSA for its failure to assess the validity of any of its procedures and its general uselessness. A 2007 review of TSA methods published in the British Medical Journal found “no comprehensive studies that evaluated the effectiveness of x ray screening of passengers or hand luggage, screening with metal detectors, or screening to detect explosives.”
"One might wonder if the Transportation Security Administration has found the right balance between safety and convenience with its notoriously burdensome airport screening procedures," notes the New York Times editorial board.
But that TSA model of checkpoints, hardened perimeters, and lots of creepy scrutiny has grown in vogue after attacks at public events like the Boston Bombing, no matter that it's a lousy model to begin with. After the Boston tragedy, security expert Bruce Schneier told Reason, "The most dangerous part of any airplane flight, movie-theater outing, or marathon run is still the drive to and from the venue. By far. Terrorism almost never happens, and we shouldn’t let the media’s endless replaying of the details fool our brains into over-magnifying the threat."
Unleashing cops and surveillance on a street fair miles from a popular football game is only marginally nuttier and more pointless than doing the same at the game itself. If street fairs are considered public events worthy of high-security responses, where do you draw the line? Can you draw a line?
After a September 2013 terrorist attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble pointed out that security requires a choice between creating hardened perimeters around every possible target in their endless number, or leaving people to respond to situations as they happen and provide for their own defense. The truth is, he pointed out, "you can't have armed police forces everywhere."
Looking at the failure of security at the Nairobi mall, Noble asked, "'Where would you have wanted to be? In a city where there was gun control and no citizens armed if you're in a Westgate mall, or in a place like Denver or Texas?" Noble, who was Undersecretary for Enforcement of the United States Department of the Treasury before he took the Interpol job, strongly suggested that letting people take responsibility for their own safety—specifically, he referred to "armed citizenry"—made more sense than what we're now seeing at the Super Bowl.
It also, incidentally, might also allow for a game that's more enjoyable to attend, and less like visiting a politician in prison.
But the United States, one of the few nations in the world that generally respects its citizens' right to defend themselves, is the scene of massive security theater around Super Bowl XLVIII, echoing similar, if lower-key, build-ups at other public events in the post-9/11 world. If the U.S. won't step away from the intrusive and ultimately pointless security measures sucking the joy from public gatherings, where will the trend end?
Once you're deploying surveillance cameras and an "amazing arsenal of security initiatives" for themed street fairs, you're only a step away from making that part of daily life.