Sunday, 19 April 2015

Harden up, Auckland Uni

Ok. So an Auckland University security expert, Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor, thinks we need bag checks at shopping malls and basically wants to import to New Zealand every dumb knee-jerk bit of the security state I moved here to avoid. She writes:
So how might this affect New Zealand consumers? Hardening or toughening soft targets could mean that if you are going to the mall, you might have your bag checked at the entrances, and there might be restrictions on how long you can stay in the carpark. Employees might require security passes, and purchases might be checked on leaving the mall.
If you're going to the cinema, there could be more security screening, including bag-checking machines. You might see more CCTV or facial recognition software being used inside the mall and in carparks that are watching all your movements. Security or police staff might ask for proof of identification, carparks might be occasionally restricted directly under or on top of the mall, and we might see more information in the media informing customers about raised security threats at particular locations.
I have a proposal.

The real soft underbelly in New Zealand isn't the shopping mall, it's Auckland University itself.

Think about it. Universities have been targeted by extremists in Africa, and American universities keep being targets for shooters. You have tons of people walking around with backpacks all the time, many of whom seem to make a point of looking suspicious just for the sake of it. It would be really easy for a terrorist to blend in, plant backpack bombs all over campus, then watch the mayhem. Plus, there's all those risky international students from suspicious places.

And so I propose that we completely lock-down Auckland University. Every person going into or out of the campus should pass through a metal detector, those "see you naked" scanners, the TSA air-puff sniffer things, and have thorough backpack checks. If it takes an hour to clear security to go to class, that's not really that big a deal as compared to the huge losses we'd suffer without that kind of security, in some folks' fevered imaginings. Lots of cameras too, everywhere, on the Auckland Uni campus. And every car parking on campus should have to have extra checks to make sure it isn't a bomb too.

Plus, the Auckland Uni chemistry building should have extra hardened security in case anybody decides it's easier to build a bomb on campus using standard chem kit than to bring one in.

Everything that Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor wants to impose on Auckland shoppers should be imposed on Auckland University staff and students, double-hard.

I further propose that we only do this at the University of Auckland as a test. If we find that there are then terrorist attacks at the other universities, that will be evidence that we need to roll out protections more broadly to the other universities. Why roll it out everywhere until we know?

Disclosure: I maintain an adjunct senior fellowship with the University of Canterbury. That Canterbury's Economics department would potentially benefit from any exodus of students from Auckland has not affected my analysis here. Surely, if security is as important as Bridgette Sullivan-Taylor thinks, students would be running from dangerous Canterbury to Auckland anyway, so this really probably hurts my quasi-interests. Right?


  1. A few years ago I read an interesting essay by a security analyst.

    He pointed out that at airports, why don't terrorists stage their hostage taking or suicide bombing at this security parameter before their bags searched.

    This security analyst was not a game theorist in the tradition of Thomas Schelling

    This security analyst wasn't aware that the whole idea of all these attacks is to get through the security and still attack.

    Terrorism is a violent form of bargaining, which is more effective in intimidating its target audiences when it shows it can break through the normal security.

  2. The so-called security expert is in fact a business lecturer at some obscure UK university. She claims that NZ has to emulate the security measures seen at malls in the US and UK. I do not know about the UK but as far as I know no US mall requires ID and bag checks for admission. Imagine how the public would respond to be asked to produce ID to go shopping. Plus the costs of imposing such a regime nation-wide would be prohibitive for many businesses.

    Then there is that small issue of the actual threat environment in NZ as opposed to the US and UK. Heck, if we follow her logic (and your even better logic here) we should impose drastic restrictions on freedom of movement at transportation hubs kapa haka events etc. Unless there is something about commodity fetichism stirs the juices of evil doers, the range of soft targets ripe for "black swan" events is broad.

    One pernicious result of 9/11 is the proliferation of security and terrorism "experts" as well as risk and security firms that all have a vested interest in fear-mongering and hyping terrorist threats regardless of the realities involved. This is one such instance.

  3. I do agree. The world has never been safer, but you would not think so when people such as this get on the loose.

  4. Good to see a healthy level of scepticism from the NZ Herald commenters!

  5. "....and purchases might be checked on leaving the mall."

    How would searching people's bags on the way out prevent terrorism? Are we stopping terrorism or shoplifting?