Opinion by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols

Security theater comes to CES

ces 2011

Long lines, like this one at CES 2011, should only be worse with new security measures for CES 2016.

Credit: Rick Wilking, Reuters

That same level of security that we love at airports will be at CES next year. This will not be pretty.

Every year I confront the insanity that is CES. You may think of it as the ultimate geek toy exhibition. I see it as acres and acres of cement floors overflowing with grumpy crowds and cranky salespeople. Oh, the things I do for my readers to keep them informed about smart washing machines, more fitness trackers than you can shake your fist at and self-driving cars!

We, the few — well actually well over a hundred thousand of us — the tech-besotted, the lovers of 8K smart TVs are, can’t seem to stay away from CES, but usually end up wishing we had. Oh, we like tech toys, but after, say, the first half-dozen virtual reality goggles, it gets really old, really fast.

At the end of the day, when you stick thousands of people into conference rooms, albeit Vegas-sized ones, even the most extroverted person gets fed up with crowds.

This year, though, the madhouse that is CES is going to be improved with airport-style security. And it’s going to be a complete disaster.

The new CES attendee rules are:

  • “Luggage may not be brought into official CES exhibit and conference areas. This means no suitcases at the venues.”

This is so not going to fly, especially on the last day, when everyone brings their luggage in so they can go straight from the venue to the airport.

  • “Sorry, no rolling bags of any size. This includes luggage, carry-ons, laptop and computer bags, and rolling luggage carts.”

Because we all know that terrorists prefer rollies? I don’t get it.

  • “Only two bags, each smaller than 12” x 17” x 6” (30 cm x 43 cm x 15 cm), may be brought into official show premises. CES exhibitors and credentialed members of the press may receive specific exceptions.”

I would hope they’d let exhibitors and press in with more bags! While I’m fine with just my laptop bag, my colleagues on the radio and television side can’t cover a show without multiple large bags.

  • “Bags will be searched. We suggest you use clear bags (mesh, plastic, vinyl, etc.) to expedite this process.”

Well, that isn’t going to happen. I can see the lines circling the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) already!

  • “Bags and backpacks with many pockets are not helpful. Pockets slow search times.”

My laptop bag, which isn’t special, has nine, count them, nine, pockets. Oh, and not one of them is transparent.

  • “Everyone will be subject to metal detector screening and body pat downs upon entering show premises.”

Hey! I’m a married man! Keep your hands to yourself.

  • “While we will be as sensitive to lines and inconvenience as possible, you can expect delays entering show facilities.”

You think?

I’ve waited in line at CES for over an hour with no security other than making sure I had a badge. How long will wait times increase when TSA-style security checks by semi-trained personnel are implemented?

Normally, I run from one venue to another for various meetings, racking up remarkable taxi bills. I have no idea how I and the tens of thousands of others at CES will make our appointments on time.

The really annoying thing about all this is that this is just an example of security theater, like the TSA itself. None of this will stop anyone who really wants to bring guns or bombs in.

To quote security expert Bruce Schneier, “Security is both a feeling and a reality. The propensity for security theater comes from the interplay between the public and its leaders. When people are scared, they need something done that will make them feel safe, even if it doesn’t truly make them safer. Politicians naturally want to do something in response to crisis, even if that something doesn’t make any sense.”The perfect example of that is the requirement that we take our shoes off at the airport, simply because Richard Reid attempted, and failed, to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes in 2001.

Meanwhile, the trained “professionals” of the TSA let fake weapons in with a 95% failure rate in June 2015. Can we really expect CES’s security guards to do better? I don’t think so!

I’m tired of this. I’m tired of it in airports. And I’m tired of people introducing it at conferences, schools and businesses.

If I die in Las Vegas (please no, not Vegas), the odds are far greater that it will be from a car accident, bad food or alcohol poisoning than a terrorist attack. At least if I expire from those causes, I won’t have waited in a queue before meeting my maker.

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