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DHS to ease up on airport security policies? Maybe. Let's give it another year or two.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

In the relatively near future you may not have to remove your laptop from your carry-on bag or your shoes from your feet before going through airport security. This potential change in security comes straight from the head honcho herself:

“We are looking at what we can do to minimize the amount of divestiture of passengers waiting in line so that it’s possible that most people can leave their shoes on,” DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano told the annual conference of the American Association of Exporters and Importers in New York on Tuesday, reported the The Journal of Commerce.

But she was clear this change would take time. Like, say, in a year or two. It takes time to adjust policies, people.

Speaking of policies, I also read this interesting article from The Economist. I'm not sure if you've been following the media stories about the woman who claimed she was molested by a TSA officer during security screening. A large part of the incident was captured on video by her son. That incident (and several in the recent past) have raised questions about the ability of passengers to video tape at security checkpoints. According to Blogger Bob, the official blogger for the TSA, the policy is currently under review.

The Economist author had an interesting point, I thought, and started out by tipping his/her hat to the way TSA saying the agency has been handling these public incidents "quickly and professionally with public statements and explanations of its policies."

Tightening the rules to defuse criticism, the Economist correspondent writes, will just be "another strike against an organization not known for its embrace of passenger rights."

He dismissed the argument that photography shouldn't be allowed for terrorism reasons, although I think that could be a good argument myself.

Also, the TSA is not budging on its liquid policy, apparently. I read this story a few days ago in The Guardian, the U.S. had warned the European Union Commission not to relax its liquids ban:

A planned change in liquids regulations for transfer passengers carrying duty free purchases on April 29, 2013, viewed as a step change to a complete lifting of the ban in two years' time, was cancelled at the 11th hour after the US warned that it would introduce its own measures in response.

That's too bad. I never remember to leave room in my checked luggage for those bottles of duty-free liquor when I fly internationally.

After assault, hotel says it will provide housekeepers with panic buttons

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

It has not been a good month for hotel housekeepers. Two high-profile assaults on housekeepers in the last month has prompted discussion about how hotels can better protect their staff.

The first incident took place on May 14 at the Sofitel Hotel, where Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the then-leader of the International Monetary Fund, has been accused of assaulting a maid on May 14, reported The New York Times. And on May 29, Mahmoud Abdel Salam Omar, a businessman and former chairman of a major Egyptian bank, allegedly attacked at housekeeper at The Pierre Hotel in New York, reported the Huffington Post.

"The problem of hotel maids being inappropriately groped or propositioned has been known for a long time," said Rory Lancman, a New York state assemblyman from Queens. "They need to have as much protection as possible, and that means equipment and that means policies that protect them."

Lancman, who heads the assembly's subcommittee on workplace issues, filed a bill last month that would require hotels to give single-button alert devices to any employees who regularly enter guest rooms. The Hotel Association of New York City, which represents about 200 hotel owners, said it was studying the proposal.

The union said it will call for such devices as part of its contract negotiations with 150 hotels next year, and a state legislator has proposed a bill requiring the devices statewide.

However, as all security professionals know, there's no single solution to a problem. Training is obviously an important component. In the most recent assault, the hotel waited 15 hours to report the incident and we know that can't be their policy. I'm a personal fan of defense classes and think that approach can never hurt. In terms of the technology, the article also notes that it's important for these devices to be small and inconspicuous so that an assailant cannot remove them easily. They also must include a locating device that works indoors so security guards can find an employee in trouble.

Do you know of any hotels who are deploying such a system? Has it been effective?

Hey TSA, don't mess with Texas.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

Texas is taking matters into its own hands when it comes to the Transportation Security Administration's enhanced pat down procedures - and it wants hands off.

The state's House passed HB 1937 that would make it a misdemeanor offense for a federal Transportation Security Administration agent to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly [touch] the anus, sexual organ, buttocks, or breast” of a person going through airport security, according to this article in The Texas Tribune.

The bill is currently stalled in the Senate after the U.S. Department of Justice sent a letter to legislators on May 3 saying the bill would be in direct conflict with federal law and could lead to a shut down of Texas airports.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Patrick, withdrew the legislation from consideration after a visit from TSA officials, which led to several Senators withdrawing their support for the legislation. So for now, Texans will have to endure the same enhanced screening as the rest of us.

TSA covert test leaves police in the dark, but there's a bright side

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Monday, May 23, 2011

I traveled overseas last week on a much needed vacation to Grand Cayman. Whenever I travel, I can't help but take note of the security measures in place, which apparently makes me a suspicious passenger. While I dislike the inconvenience of undergoing secondary screening, I must say, I'm always sort of excited to experience these enhanced measures, first hand.

On this particular trip, it wasn't until I tried returning to the U.S. that I ran into any security issues. While in the Grand Cayman Airport (in all its five-gate glory), I was pulled aside and told that I had been selected for secondary screening. They took me into a windowless room in the back and a security officer rifled through my checked luggage. Other than a bottle of Grand Cayman's fine Tortuga Rum, there was nothing but clothes in my luggage. Then, as I was about to board my plane, I was pulled aside AGAIN and another officer looked through my carry-on. Earlier, I had joked with my friend, who had to undergo explosive-detection screening on her way to Grand Cayman, that I always get selected for secondary screening and saw her laughing at me as she waited on the tarmac making sure the plane didn't take off without us (although, frankly, it wouldn't be the worst place to get stranded, that's for sure).

But, I can't fault security, of course, they're only doing their job. And, apparently they are constantly being tested, too. I read this story with interest about a covert security test recently conducted at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

On May 12, federal authorities sent a man of Middle Eastern or south Asian descent through security screening with a "device" hidden in a shaving kit. When the cylinder attached by wires to a watch was discovered by screeners, the police immediately handcuffed the man and started evacuating the area. However, before the airport was evacuated, TSA personnel intervened and informed the police that it was only part of a test.

TSA spokeswoman Carrie Harmon said the agency routinely conducts thousands of covert tests each year at airports across the country. The one at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport ended up being a little too real because of "miscommunication" between the TSA and police, she said.

Yes, obviously communication here failed, but isn't it good to know that all these security measures that air travelers are being subjected to (some more than others) are actually working? Right?

LaHood changes focus from sleeping air traffic controllers to ... bike-riding hipsters?

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

It was only a few weeks ago that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was making his rounds on all the networks talking about the slew of incompetent air traffic controllers. The topic made headline news for days (too many, in my opinion) and ranged from napping air traffic controllers to ones trying to catch a flick in between landing planes. It was certainly enough to keep the man busy.

Today, I saw a story on Huffington Post that caught my eye and made me laugh and thought I should share since I'm probably not the only one out there who needs a chuckle today. LaHood's most recent mission for his department is looking into measures to encourage automobile drivers to observe better safety standards when it came to bicyclists on the roadways. First of all, I'm an avid biker and one of my biggest complaints about the State of Maine is that they were too cheap to pave decent-size shoulders on their roads, making it dangerous for bikers to enjoy some of the most beautiful roads in the country. Every time I choose the scenic route, I know I'm taking my life in my hands and it just takes one inattentive motorist to ruin a beautiful bike ride (and perhaps my life).

First of all, I think it's interesting this is a topic LaHood is passionate about and something he thinks the Transportation Department needs to take the lead on.

“I’m concerned that people that are driving cars have a level of respect for bikers, and that’s the reason that we have these bike lanes,” said LaHood, in the article. “Bikers have as much right to the streets as anybody driving a car and I am concerned about [their safety]."

Perhaps it's the rise in gas prices that's prompting him to get out in front of what could be a rapid rise in bikers on the road (that's a big reason I started riding to work more).

The amusing part of the story, is that the reporter also expressed surprise at LaHood's passion:

Told that his heartfelt defense of bikers came off like the musings of a run-of-the-mill hipster, LaHood professed genuine confusion.

“I don’t even know what that term means,” he said.

Upon second reading, I guess it's not really all that funny (must be the cold medicine), but when I first read it I thought it was amusing that LaHood didn't know what a hipster was. Then I realized there's probably a large percentage of SDN readers who also do not know what a hipster is. So here, check out this link. Don't say you didn't learn anything from reading this blog.

New legislation requires convenience stores to install high-def cameras

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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Apparently, the city of Milwaukee is fed up with poor-quality video footage, too. A new piece of legislation passed by city councilors last week will require convenience stores to install not one, but two high-definition surveillance cameras.

According to an article in Milwaukee Magazine, the Milwaukee Police Department requested the legislation, which is intended to provide more reliable video evidence for criminal prosecutions.

Under the new ordinance, stores must have at least two “high resolution surveillance security cameras.” One camera must be pointed at the store’s entrance to capture people’s faces as they go in and out, and the other must be focused on the store’s cash register area. Stores will also be required to store the video on recordable CDs or DVDs, thereby disqualifying the old videotape systems still used by some stores.

Currently, stores are only required to keep video recordings for 72 hours. Under the new rules, they would have to keep the discs for at least 30 days.

I'm a little confused by the storage requirements of this legislation. This makes it sound like convenience stores will be recording all footage directly to discs (either CDs or DVDs), but chances are they're just keeping footage stored on a hard drive for 30 days, right? Usually, footage isn't transferred to a disc unless it's an actual incident that police need to use for forensic purposes, otherwise that's a heck of a lot of CDs, right?

Anyway, I think this is interesting that the city is requiring private businesses to improve their video surveillance programs. While this legislation is directed at convenience stores that are considered "high risk" businesses, I wonder if this concerns those in the private sector about the precedent this legislation could be setting? While I'm sure that most folks reading this blog agree that video surveillance should actually be a useful tool and provide clear images, there is a cost burden associated with such legislation. I'm sure there are some convenience store owners in Milwaukee who aren't happy about having to buy new digital, high-res equipment this week (but if you're an integrator in Wisconsin, you might want to get on this one).

In surprise decision, Arizona governor vetoes bill that would have allowed guns on campus

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I was waiting all day yesterday for this news and it finally happened. Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona, vetoed a controversial gun bill that would have allowed permitted gun owners to carry weapons on campus, according to this article in The Christian Science Monitor. The bill had been significantly scaled back from its original form, which would have allowed individuals with conceal carry permits to bring their weapons into campus buildings and classrooms. The bill that hit her desk only allowed weapons – open or concealed – in public "rights of way" on campuses.

In her veto letter, Brewer said the parameters of what was allowed weren't sufficiently defined:

"Bills impacting our Second Amendment rights have to be crystal clear so that gun owners don't become lawbreakers by accident," she wrote. She also questioned whether the phrase "educational institution" in the bill could be applied to elementary and high schools.

Dead is how this bill is likely to remain. Forty votes would be needed in the House to override her veto, but supporters look to be short of that mark. The bill passed in the House 33 to 24, according to the article.

Arizona would have been the second state to allow guns on all college campuses, after Utah. Texas also has a similar bill that could be ratified soon.

Governor Brewer's vetoes are considered a setback for the conservatives who control the Arizona legislature, according to the article:
Brewer's decision was particularly surprising because she has been a champion of gun rights in the past, signing bills that allow guns into bars and restaurants and that permit gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a permit. Another controversial gun bill is on her desk now: It would require local and state government to either allow guns in public buildings or secure those buildings with metal detectors and armed guards.

Are you surprised by her decision?

Flash mobs: An increasingly common strategy for organized retail crime?

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The majority of organized retail crime stories I've written about recently involve groups of thieves who travel around, hitting store after store after store. The I-95 corridor, for example, is a prime route for these gangs to travel because it's easy for them to hit multiple states and allude the jurisdiction of any one police department. The picture I've drawn in my head is of this group of hardened criminals, packed in a white van, plotting their next stop. But, turns out, that may not be the case at all.

I just read this Chicago Sun-Times article about a group of 70 youths who “stormed” a McDonald’s restaurant. It's actually unknown what this group was trying to do, other than cause the restaurant to voluntarily shutdown for three hours, but apparently this isn't the first time the Chicago police have dealt with flash mobs in the area:

“Both CPD and [Loyola] campus safety believe this activity is related to the same group of individuals who have attempted to create havoc in the area before,” wrote Robert Fine, the director of campus security for Loyola and a veteran Chicago cop, according to the article. “In February, we alerted you to a similar incident in which these ‘Flash Mob Offenders’ allegedly committed thefts within local retail stores around the Water Tower Campus community. The offenders exit the Chicago Red Line stop, they go to various shops or restaurants, usually clothing stores, and then storm the stores, taking as many items as they can carry. The incidents seem to occur most often on weekends, between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m.”

I'm wondering if this flash mob approach is becoming more common in retail theft than "traditional" organized retail crime. The theory, I'm guessing, is that if you show up with a huge group of people and grab as much as you can, the store can't possibly stop or even think about arresting everyone. Scary stuff if you're in loss prevention.

And, just in case you're really out of the loop, flash mobs have become a bit of a sensation in recent years, the most well known being gatherings of people in malls or other public spaces who sporadically perform some sort of act (usually a choreographed dance) and then disperse. It's quite entertaining, really. Usually these events are organized via social media like Twitter and Facebook. For your reference, here's my favorite from the Liverpool Train Station (and I think it's actually an ad, so it may not be a "real" flash mob, but it's entertaining):

Despite anniversaries for VT and Columbine shootings this month, video game glorifies school shootings

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Monday, April 4, 2011

The Virginia Tech shootings have recently come back into the headlines with the announcement that the school will be fined $55,000 for failure to notify the campus community in a timely fashion regarding shootings that eventually resulted in the death of 30 students and teachers on April 16, 2007. You can read more about the fine and what it means for institutions of higher learning on Tuesday's Newswire, but as I was searching the Internet for related news, this article popped up.

The article is about the banning of a video game that allows players to emulate school shooting sprees:

The object of School Shooter: North American Tour 2012 is to murder as many defenseless students, teachers and members of staff as possible. To do so, the player uses weapons based on those used by the likes of Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. After completing the spree, the player is encouraged to commit suicide before being captured by law enforcement officials.

Seriously?

With so much of the blame for school shootings already placed on violent video games (although that theory has been largely debunked, but was certainly a huge issue during the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999), why would game developers think this would be acceptable? Well, I guess because violence sells video games. Not being a gamer myself, I can't attest to the draw of such things, but I know there are a lot of people spending a lot of money (and time!) on video games that involve shooting people.

The developer of the game said in the article that he created the game because other school shooting games just weren't that much fun. "Nobody has ever tried create a proper game about a school shooting," he said, adding that he was not particularly moved by the tragedy at Columbine.

I guess it's a good sign that this game wasn't released "due to pressure from critics", but chances are it will be released at a later date. I personally don't think it should be released at all, but it's definitely not a smart marketing strategy to release it in April. After all, it's a tragic month for school shootings.

Texas a step closer to being the second state to allow concealed weapons on campus

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Texas lawmakers are expected this week to send along legislation for a full Senate vote that would permit students to carry concealed handguns on the state's college campuses. According to this Huffington Post article, Texas state senators appeared poised on March 22 to send the bill toward a final vote. I wrote about this bill in late February (see Guns at school: Texas bill would allow concealed weapons on campus) and pointed out that many educators oppose such legislation:

University of Texas President William Powers has opposed concealed handguns on campus, saying the mix of students, guns and campus parties is too volatile.

This bill would make Texas the second state after Utah to allow the carrying of concealed weapons on public post-secondary campuses. The bill would grant private universities discretion as to whether they allow guns on campus, but Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, has said he will try to amend the legislation to give public university officials the same choice, according to the article.

Something I hadn't picked up from previous discussions about this legislation was that applicants for a Texas concealed handgun license must be 21 years of age, which means that many students aren't eligible. Personally, I think an age restriction is a good thing considering how many drunken brawls I've witnessed involving college-age folks (who, by the way, aren't legally allowed to be consuming alcohol in the first place).

What do you think? Would college campuses be safer if students were allowed to carry concealed weapons?

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