It was my nagging fear of inadvertently carrying nail clippers while trying to pass through airport security, as well as my long-standing interest in stupidity, that prompted me to go hear Simon Davies present the first Stupid Security Awards at the Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy in April here in New York City. Davies, director of Privacy International, a nonprofit organization based in London and Washington, D.C., went through almost 5,000 nominations from people telling tales of unnecessary intrusion and harassment in the service of the illusion of security--I mean, seriously, can't sharp fingernails be as lethal as a set of nail clippers?
I also went because overzealous and counterproductive security is a science issue. In December 2002 the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine issued a joint statement complaining that "outstanding young scientists, engineers, and health researchers have been prevented from or delayed in entering this country."
This article was originally published with the title The Yanked Clippers.