• United States



World View: The Threat of T-Shirts

Jun 06, 20084 mins
IT Leadership

Just when I thought the world of security couldn't get any more surreal, I was surfing the web and came across a couple of really zany new security requirements.

Just when I thought the world of security couldn’t get any more surreal, I was surfing the web and came across a couple of really zany new security requirements. The first is that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will now be requiring visitors to the United States from countries not requiring visas to register online with the US government at least 72 hours before their departure. The rule will apply to citizens of the 27 visa-waiver countries which includes most of western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

What makes this program silly is that the justification for the program’s creation is that 2 terrorists in the past 7 years, Richard Reid, the so-called “shoe bomber” was a U.K. citizen and Zacarias Moussaoui who was convicted of involvement in the 9/11 attacks was a French national. Both men entered the US without a visa. According to the convoluted logic of the U.S. Homeland Security Department, that inconvenient coincidence means that the multitudes of innocent citizens from those countries who will be visiting the United States in the future must be guilty by association. So much for being a close ally of the United States.

This is yet another example of a so-called “improvement” in security procedures actually hurting the larger interests of the United States. What will happen in practice is that a large number of Europeans, who are quite keen on data privacy, will simply decide not to visit the United States. The result will be a further decrease of tourism travel to the United States. As cited in a previous column, there has already been a 17 percent drop in tourism to the United States since 2001. In a survey of frequent international travellers, a full 39 percent of the respondents cited the United States as the “worst” for immigration and entry procedures. Half of the respondents said immigration and Customs officials were rude and that they actually feared them more than the threat of terrorism. This latest farcical rule is DHS’ version of improving customer relations.

In addition, to the drop in tourism to the United States, the Homeland Security ruling will probably prompt the European Union to reciprocate by imposing the same type registration requirements on Americans visiting Europe. How do you suppose Joe Sixpack from middle America is going to feel about sending their sensitive personal information over to the European Union for a background check? What will these keystone kops in Homeland Security dream up next to complicate the lives of Americans?

And just to prove that Americans don’t have a complete lock on silly security rules, here’s a second gem I recently came across. According to the BBC, airport security at London’s Heathrow airport recently stopped a passenger for wearing a Transformer cartoon t-shirt. Security at the boarding gate said that the t-shirt contained a picture of a gun and therefore the passenger would not be allowed to board the plane. Well, I suppose that is technically true if you consider that the arm of the transformer appeared to be some sort of cosmic cannon from the future. It’s also true if you saw the animated film and thought that perhaps the cartoon might jump off a t-shirt and come to life and begin using its weapons from the future to hijack the plane into the fourth dimension. I suppose all of that is possible but, c’mon let’s get real here.

According to the BBC, ( the passenger, Brad Jayakody, from Bayswater, central London, was stopped while boarding his flight and made to change his t-shirt. “It’s a cartoon robot” he said, “what threat is it to security or offensive to anyone at all? I was just looking for someone with a bit of common sense.”

At this point, Brad, I think we all are. ##

Paul Raines is CISO of a nonprofit organization in Europe.


Paul Raines is the Chief Information Security Officer for the United Nations Development Programme. In that capacity he is responsible for the information security and disaster recovery planning for the Organisation’s 177 locations around the world. Previously, he worked for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and, like all current and former members of the organization, shared in the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize. Prior to working for the United Nations he was the Chief Information Security Officer for Bloomberg LP and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. He is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. For relaxation he enjoys opera, Shakespeare, French wine and sometimes just sitting in a cafe with an espresso and croissant reading a good book on Roman history.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of Paul Raines and do not necessarily represent those of IDG Communications, Inc., its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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