Super Bowl

Is Crazed Super Bowl Security a Taste of America To Come?

Think of a TSA checkpoint that goes on, forever.


Super Bowl 48

In the run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII (just be happy they don't use Egyptian numerals), the New York City Police Department is deploying an "amazing arsenal of security initiatives," including 200 "temporary" surveillance cameras to ensure that dirty deeds remain undone at the big game. That's remarkable, since City Hall in the rotten apple is actually about 11 miles from the site of the kickoff at MetLife Stadium, which is in East Rutherford, New Jersey. But never fear, security at the the Super Bowl itself promises to make attendance at football's championship game an awful lot like spending several hours at a very cold TSA checkpoint—with some watery beer. Get used to it America, this massive demonstration of pointless security theater just may be a glimpse of the future.

The NYPD's 200 new and oh-so-temporary security cameras are deployed along "Super Bowl Boulevard"—what you and I might recognize as a football-themed street party along Broadway, meant to make up for the fact that professional football games aren't actually played in New York City these days. The full array of security at the street party, reports CBS News, includes "police helicopters with special sensors to detect radiation on the ground, a counter terrorism 360-degree camera car to look for suspicious packages, bomb dogs, video cameras mounted as the NYPD's 'eyes in the sky' at various event locations, lots of radiation detection boats in addition to the usual complement of heavily armed cops."

This, remember, is a closed-off stretch of urban avenue, miles and miles from the actual game.

At MetLife stadium itself, attendees will be happy to know that tailgating is banned (OK, you can party in your parking space, if you have one, without a grill), vehicles may approach the venue only once, and the list of prohibited items is…long. Two columns, in fact. No banners, frisbees, or umbrellas, for sure, so have fun and hope for clear skies.

In keeping with NFL policy implemented at all stadiums, this year, MetLifeStadium points out:

The NFL strongly encourages fans not to bring any type of bag to the Super Bowl, but if necessary, those outlined below are permissible:

• Bags that are clear plastic, vinyl or PVC and do not exceed 12″ x 6″ x 12″ OR

• One-gallon clear plastic freezer bag (Ziploc bag or similar), AND

• Small clutch bags, 4.5″ x 6.5″, with or without a handle or strap, can be taken into the stadium with one of the clear plastic bag options.

• An exception will be made for medically necessary items after thorough inspection at a gate designated for this purpose.

The NFL concedes that its tightened security is partially a response to the Boston Marathon bombing, but adds that it has been patting-down fans since 2007 and running them through metal detectors since 2012.

Special to the Super Bowl, though, is the presence of 700 New Jersey State Troopers, along with federal agents and a variety of vaguely defined high-tech snooping devices. The New Jersey State Police Department blog describes the process of entering the stadium on game day:

Fan screenings begin at 2 p.m. on game day. Fans will enter heated welcome pavilions at MetLife Stadium, where they can expect to encounter walk-through metal detectors, X-ray machines, K-9 dogs and pat-down searches. They are encouraged to arrive early to avoid delays and to speed up stadium entrance.

Shockingly, MetLife Stadium points out that hotel rooms remain available. You don't say.

Transparent bag rule

This multi-square-mile, prison-style lockdown must be in response to dastardly threats, right? Nope. "As of this time there are no threats directed against this event that we're aware of," New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton said just yesterday. This is all just in case.

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.

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  1. you’re only a step away from making that part of daily life.

    That’s the point, slowly and methodically increasing exposure to government scrutiny until it’s everywhere. It’s exactly what they want.

    1. Stand up to terrorists now, or bend over for anal probes tomorrow.

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    2. Which is why “Progressives” love it so much

  2. What no comments, yet?

    J.D. is my current favorite Reason writer. And he nails this completely.

    MLB already said wanding will be mandatory starting in 2015. I went to the courthouse last week to look up a will. More metal detectors. It also provided employment for a couple of that county’s finest to sit on their ass all day while demanding that citizens empty their pockets.

    What’s next malls?

    Well that’s it I am done with pro sports. Maybe if enough people feel this way and act, the owners will get the message. Probably not.

    1. Going to stadiums to watch games is fun once in a while, but the hassle with parking and trying to leave the parking lot is something I can do without.

      I don’t approve of the TSA, but it’s only a matter of time before someone detonates a home made bomb. The last two shooters arrived at the scene with a shotgun and makeshift bombs.

      1. All the better for the Cheapskate Pro Football League I’m going to start up some day. Security will be your own business, subject to traditional legal duty of care & bailments.

        1. Both the Men’s & Women’s divisions will play according to the rules I draw up for at least the 1st 3 seasons. After that I’ll let a panel make revisions annually. Other than to please me, however, the idea will be to entertain people in the stands and get them out of there in a reasonable amount of time. Teams will all be owned by the league though operated somewhat autonomously, and costs will be held way down compared to the majors.

          1. Vince McMahon called this the XFL.

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    1. Miriam ben Derp-y? Grinning out loud!

    2. Wow! 173 = few. Do people dumb enough to click on that link actually exist?

  4. The Line goes ever on and on
    Down from the spot where it began.
    Now far ahead the Line has gone,
    And I must follow, if I can,
    Pursuing it with eager feet,
    Until it joins some larger queue
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    –J. R. R. Tolkien

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  6. 200 “temporary” surveillance cameras to ensure that dirty deeds remain undone at the big game.

    As evidence has shown, despite the fading protestations of our ‘pro-camera’ set, the surveillance cameras do little to prevent crime, but do admittely help in identifying the perpetrators after the fact.

  7. I have it on good authority that all these extraordinary security precautions are there just to make sure no Cleveland Browns fans slip into the game.

  8. At this point, every step toward tyranny is probably a good thing. We are going to have to “take our medicine” at some point and I often think that we might as well get on with it. It isn’t until things get worse, and then really worse, that they will get better.

    1. I sometimes wonder if people in North Korea think the same thing.

      1. Let’s ask Rodman.

    2. Of course, tyranny will lead to pushback against it, the result of which will be less tyranny than when it hits bottom, but more than now.

      1. sure, because once the modern surveillance state gets settled in, it will be SOOO easy to rebel

  9. Yes

  10. The security got ridiculous jacked up at last years Indy 500 too… that event easily has 3 times as many people compared to the superbowl. It was pretty ugly, half of the fans waited in line for an hour and didn’t make it through the gates in time for the start of the race. Then the flood gates open and they stormed through in one giant wave. People were ANGRY, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar debacle.

  11. Listen to Andy & Ken encountering the security at a hotel in Jersey City where the Broncos are staying:…..hive=94117 or…..hive=94118

    Not clear whether that’s the Denver or Denville, NJ Broncos, nor whether this is for the Big Game or just the semi-finals in the worldwide championship tournament. And don’t forget next week’s program, which they recorded that evening at the same place.

  12. 9/11. Big Brother’s wet dream come true.

  13. “Terror”, from the Latin “terrere”, meaning “to frighten”.

    The Terrorists won.

  14. I think you are going to see a massive exodus from cities over the next few decades. They had a brief renaissance because travel by car became tedious for a while. With improved transportation, delivery, and communications, there is less and less reason to live in cities.

    1. This won’t be allowed (or made difficult by Agenda 21 regs), so do it now. Just not near me please.

  15. We have totally succumbed to Cheney’s “One-Percent Doctrine” under which even the tiniest perceived threat warrants whatever expenditure (usually huge) government/business decides to spend to eliminate that often fictitious threat.

  16. Well, maybe Graystone Industries can get those cylons stationed nearby so that if some does get wind of a plot, at least they’ll be ready to roll.

    Face it people, last week’s science fiction dystopia looks more and more like this weeks’s news.

    Paul-Amash 2016!

  17. I’ll never attend such an event but if subservient sport fans willfully subjugate themselves to invasive state gropings and restrictions then more power to the dumbbells.

    If people en masse just said, “Fuck it, you can keep your lousy tickets” the system of command and control at these types of events would lessen considerably. That being said and knowing a few diehard sport fans I’m pretty certain no level of draconian security will stem the bleating and herding instinct of people obsessed with attending team events.

    1. I had the same hope about air travel, but see that the sheeple just got right in line for their tail-docking.

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    1. Who the hell is Piper?
      Ain’t no friggin’ Piper on these message boards.
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      Does she also work at the Spammer Factory with you?

  20. Well, on the bright side at least we have more to joke about than “turn your head and cough” now.

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  23. So all of this, just because 3 people died last year? Imagine if they put this many regulations on the police every time THEY killed 3 innocent people.

  24. I went to the celebration for the FSU Seminoles yesterday. I guess about 30-35,000 people, the Marching Chiefs, local celebrities, Heisman winner, BCS National Championship trophy, Jimbo, etc.
    It was a fairly large event.
    The four of us walked up, said hello at the ‘check point’ (which was a couple of women telling us we could not take beverages in), and we went on in.
    No metal detectors. No pat downs. No body scans. No dogs. I mean, there were State Troopers, campus police, and deputies there, but they just kept to themselves. Anyway, despite the (relatively) lax security, no one was hurt, no one died, everything was all right.
    Funny how that is.

  25. Can you imagine the NFL letting 35,000 fans onto the field with the Super Bowl champs?
    Yesterday they were letting people take photos with the Coaches’ Trophy and the Heisman! lol…it was nice to see what happens when you have reasonable expectations of the public…they’ll often surprise you if you give them the chance.

    This is a video of thousands of people on Bobby Bowden Field with the team.

  26. Fans will enter heated welcome pavilions at MetLife Stadium, where they can expect to encounter walk-through metal detectors, X-ray machines, K-9 dogs and pat-down searches. They are encouraged to arrive early to avoid delays and to speed up stadium entrance.

    I love this newspeak. Maybe we can start calling TSA checkpoints “Freedom Parades”.

  27. I’ll bet the terrorists are glad they didn’t waste any effort ruining THAT Super Bowl!

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