The Failure of "If You See Something, Say Something"

In his new book Against Security, the sociologist Harvey Molotch argues that a host of institutions and procedures that were supposed to keep us safer have in fact made life worse and no more secure. One of his targets is the "If You See Something, Say Something" campaign in New York's subways, so Dwyer Gunn interviewed Molotch about the program's failures for a short piece in New York. I wasn't surprised to read that the campaign generates lots of false leads and that it doesn't seem to have caught any actual terrorists. But I got a grim chuckle out of this extra detail:

Those "See Something" placards plastered on station agents' glass booths? They actually make it harder for the agent, a trained professional, to see anything.

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  • R C Dean||

    What a shame that it was only 1,944 New Yorkers. Just 40 more would have been perfect.

  • Matrix||

    I was thinking the same thing!

  • R C Dean||

    Jesse, was your grim chuckle at the fact that the agent's vision is obstructed by this program, or was it at the characterization of the station agent as a "trained professional"?

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    In Chicago, what used to be "clerks", sit in what used to be the "clerk's booth", and don't do a damn thing at all anymore. People pay fares at ticket machines now, and the booth sitters are apparently there to make sure people don't cheat the turnstile, even though they never give a fuck. They don't even make change, and they piss and moan at people who try to ask a question.

  • ||

    made life worse and no less secure

    Did you mean no more secure?

  • Tim||

    no, less secure.

  • Jesse Walker||

    I did. Thanks, Joe. Fixed.

  • Lord Humungus||

    Oh, I see something: A country going down the statist authoritarian shit-hole.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Can't we pay someone to see something and say something for us. Why do we have to do everything around here. Sheesh.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    NEEDZ MOAR WARRANTLESS SEARCHING

  • Scruffy Nerfherder||

    AND HUGE DATABASES

  • ||

    Wait what? There are security agents in glass booths in NY subways? WTF? How does that work?

    IN CASE OF TERRORISM - BREAK GLASS

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    I'm seeing a treasonous blog post right now, and I'm saying something. ATTACK WAAAAAAAAAATCH!

  • ||

    Better flavor text: "And 1,936 of them were false alarms. The other 8 were 'professional agitators'."

  • Tulpa Doom||

    "See something-say something" is actually precisely how a libertarian society would handle security against terrorism. In a statist society there would be secret police or whatever constantly watching the populace ostensibly to prevent terrorism but also to ferret out dissent within the ranks. Having this surveillance function distributed among the people rather than centralized under government authority serves the same liberty-bolstering purpose that having jury trials serves in criminal law enforcement.

    Indeed, the author seems to embrace the statist model of "civilians" keeping their heads down and their mouths shut while the "trained professional" agents of the state keep an eye on things. No thank you.

  • Virginian||

    See, there's a lot of libertarians who really do prefer to stick their heads in the sand, which is exactly what neocons accuse them of doing. Pretending there is no problem is exactly what the Republicrats do on a host of government abuses, and it's something that libertarians do a lot when it comes to matters of war, defense, and security policy.

    The militia of the several states is perfectly equipped for handling terrorism. Notice terrorists are only successful in places where people are prohibited from going armed. A vigilant, free people with the tools to defend themselves is all we need to stop terrorists. No need for government bureaus or surveillance.

  • Jesse Walker||

    In a statist society there would be secret police or whatever constantly watching the populace ostensibly to prevent terrorism but also to ferret out dissent within the ranks. Having this surveillance function distributed among the people rather than centralized under government authority...

    Under See Something Say Something, you still have a centralized authority. That's who the civilians are supposed to report to.

  • The Late P Brooks||

    "See something-say something" is actually precisely how a libertarian society would handle security against terrorism.

    If you mean rational private citizens as opposed to professional pantswetters with a pecuniary interest in maintaining a perpetual panicky paranoia, you're right.

  • Adam330||

    Seriously? Some high school drop-out manning a subway booth is a "trained professional?"

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