Wednesday, January 07, 2004


It's not been a good year for homonyms, as mentioned in the previous post. The great aviation security scare of 2004 has so far seen a succession of serious homo-bashing episodes - greatly helped by the Transportation Security Administration only including surnames on their warnings, as revealed by Nicolas Sarkozy. Now there's a man I never thought I'd agree with. (The true stupidity of this only stands out more when you think how often the same ones come up in Islamic names - there are likely more Mohammed Iqbals about than John Smiths) More broadly, the flap seems to have brought home to a lot of right-wing people what I've been fuming about for years - the degree to which the Americans cheerfully disregard British sovereignty whilst the Right moan about Europe. After all, we don't and never will have a single vote on Capitol Hill. Here we have a situation where the US presumes to dictate our policy (and a lot of other countries') - just like that! Not to mention the various international conventions about state jurisdiction aboard aircraft.

The full stupidity is impressive. On the one hand we have demands for a huge extension in the collection of data on people travelling to the US, without any apparent guarantees that this information will be respected or that it will be processed with greater competence than the passenger records seem to be now. On the other hand, we have a demand for armed guards on all passenger aircraft. The sky-marshal proposal has turned out rather strangely, though. Whilst the unsolved problems of it pile up, the Department for Transport seems to leave many of them untouched. After all, we are going to open a huge can of worms in terms of international law. but we hear nothing about who will have ultimate responsibility for their actions. There are 60 flights a day between the UK and the US, and many more overflights going elsewhere - but the total number being recruited could only watch about 13% of them, given leave, sickness, training and the like. No-one seems to know who is paying - the Metropolitan Police Authority is rightly having kittens at the possible budget consequences, as most of the police officers qualified for the job come from their force. (And who will replace them?) What will be the legal powers of a sky marshal? Will they be sworn-in as Queen's constables? How will we know who is a sky marshal and who is a terrorist? Imagine the scene when a man stands up from his seat and produces a gun. Apparently they will carry identification cards - but who knows what one looks like? And wouldn't that permit a decoy terrorist to identify the guard? What rules will apply at Heathrow, when there might be armed guards from dozens of countries passing through in a country where handguns are illegal? It is forbidden except for certain persons to bring a weapon onto an aircraft in Britain under the Air Navigation Orders. Will they be changed? Will the guard be under the captain's command?

Here's the weird, though - no-one seems to answer any of these questions, and their solution is apparently left to local collective bargaining between BALPA and the individual airlines. Hardly a sensible approach - since when have the management of Virgin Atlantic or the pilots' union had the right to determine national policy? But I suspect a deeper game. It must be obvious to the DOT that this is a bad policy imposed by the US. Perhaps some feline bureaucrat has concluded that the best answer is to let the proposal stagger on and collapse, hoping to kill it with kindness?

And finally - when, if ever, will Parliament ever be consulted about this?

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