Security Theatre comes to Via Rail

Security theatre is the use of measures that don’t actually increase security, but look like they do, and so provide a way for organisations to pretend that they are hardening their operations. A good example is the requirement that passwords contain numbers and other funny characters, which make humans feel like their passwords are stronger but which are almost completely irrelevant against password crackers (length is all that matters).

It’s being reported that Via Rail, which is the passenger rail network in Canada, is considering airport-style identity and security checks for passengers. It’s not giving away any secrets to point out that the vulnerabilities of a railway system are all about the track, and not at all about the trains. And there’s not a lot that can be done about track security as the frequent suicide-by-train incidents show. All that airport-style security checks accomplish is to waste money, raise prices, and make train travel less attractive.

Terror works on flights because of very specific properties: flying planes are isolated, and they have to keep going. Trains, despite some recent films, don’t have either of these properties.

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