Browsing the blog archives for January, 2010.

The Real Risk

Civil Rights

Airplane Terrorists

According to the US Dept. of Transportation, there were exactly 96,737,658 scheduled commercial airline flights (domestic & international to the USA) during the 10-year period from Jan 2000 to Dec 2009.  During the same 10-year period (including the attempt made at the start of 2010), there were 6 attempted terrorist attacks on US aviation.  The actual risk of terrorist attack is 6 / 96.7 Million, or 1 in 16,122,943.

According to the US Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), a total of 708.4 Million passenger screeens were performed in 2004, implying that roughly 7 Billion security screens were performed during the same 10-year period.  Not one of those screens ever caught a terrorist.

However a total of 1,708,400,522 “knifes” were seized as a result of performing 708,400,522 passenger scans and 535,020,271 baggage scans during 2004.  That’s 1 in 728, or 0.1%.

It is important to remember that in 2004, TSA determined that a file attached to your toenail clipper was actually a “knife”.    Other “dangerous” items confiscated by the TSA included 11,616,249 lighters (that are now permitted on aircraft).

To capture these “dangerous” items, the TSA unconstitutionally opened 16% of all checked bags, of which there were 85,571,710.   These searches were unconstitutional because they were performed without probable cause.  In other words, if the TSA were treated as a police force, they would not have been able to obtain a search warrant for those searches.

Assuming an average of 2 checked bags per passenger that checks bags, that means that 15.9% of 42.8 Million passengers, or 6.8 Million passengers a year have their constitutional rights violated by an illegal search.  Over a 10-year period, this is roughly 68 Million people.

Although many people believe that TSA stands for “Thousands Standing Around”, the statistics show the real meaning is “Terrorizing by Searching Airlines”.

Comparative Risks

According to the US National Lightning Safety Institute,  the highest risk of being struck by lightning in North America occurs in Wyoming.  That state has a casualty rate of 7.21 per Million, or 1 in 138,696.  (By comparison, the odds of being struck by lightning in Canada is 1 in 428,571.)  You would need to fly on 116 airplanes to have the same risk as a lightning strike in Wyoming.  Let alone actually being a casualty due to the 1:138,696 odds.

According to the State of California Dept of Conservation, the annual risk of experiencing an earthquake in San Fransciso is 1 in 62.5 (80% chance in 50 years).  You would need to fly on 257,967 airplanes to run the same risk.  Funny that such a “high” risk doesn’t seem to bother the 16.4 Million visitors to San Fransisco each year.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, the incidence rate of breast cancer is 102 per 100,000 or roughly 1 in 1000.  A woman would need to fly on 16,452 airplanes to be at the same level of risk as she already is from breast cancer.

According to Statistics Canada, the mortality rate due to all causes is 712 per 100,000 or 1 in 140.  In other words you are 115,000 times more likely to die from other causes than you are from an attack on the airplane you are on.

According to the Paling Perspective Scale published by the Risk Communications Institute, a risk level of 1 in 16 Million is an risk that is “Effectively Zero”. 

In fact, according to the Risk Communications Institute,  the risk of being at risk (due all causes of risk) is only 1 in 100,000.

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No Choice At All

Civil Rights

False Choices

The Charter of Rights & Freedoms protects us from unreasonable search.

Yet CATSA is searching Canadians on wholesale basis and since virtually all travellers are innocent, these searches are unreasonable as they lack probable cause. 

The Charter provides that the rights of the minority may be compromised to protect the majority, but in this case the rights of both the minority and the majority are being violated. 

Offering travellers a choice between two types of illegal search is no choice at all.

How You Can Protest

You can email the Transport Minister:  John Baird

You can email the Justice Minister & Attorney General of Canada:  Rob Nicholson

You can write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

You can post to blog sites. Blog postings are generally searchable so they will turn up in Google searches. Most newspapers have blog sites.

You can join a Facebook group such as “Stop TSA Full Body Scans” at

You can complain to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association by calling Graeme Norton, Director, Public Safety Project, 416-363-0321, x. 223. The CCLA has a rather weak policy position currently on this and could use some more backbone.

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Strip-Searching The Charter of Rights

Civil Rights, Virtual Reality

Airport Strip-Searches
One of the goals of this blog is to comment on the duality between our actual and virtual realities. Most of the time our collective virtual society mirrors our real-world beliefs and values.

On today’s Internet we find the full range of human behaviour (including virtualized dating, sex, marriage, and funerals) mirrored from our real world and for the most part our response to it is the same as what we wished we could do in the real world. It is cause for alarm, however, whenever our virtual response differs from our real-world response.

Would you comply if you were asked, prior to boarding an aircraft, to step into a room and remove all your clothes so that a security officer could visually confirm that you had nothing under your clothes but your naked body?

Yet that is exactly what happens during a 1mm virtual scan of your body.  A security officer being in a different room is basically the same as using TV to visually inspect your nakedness. The level of detail in the virtual scan is about as good as your eyesight and comparable to an air-brushed image that removes pimples and other blemishes smaller than 1mm.

Charter of Rights
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms clearly states, para 8, that “Everyone has the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.”.

The definition of “unreasonable” under traditional legal interpretation means that it is unreasonable for you to be searched without probable cause. Under the Charter of Rights, a police officer who had reasonable cause to suspect that you were going to blow up an airplane would be justified to search you via a pat-down or, after arresting you, via a strip search.

The Charter protects us from being searched without any reason to do so. Boarding an aircraft is not a valid reason since all travellers have no intention of blowing up the aircraft.

In fact, given that attempts to blow up an airplane occur less than once a year, all travellers are innocent virtually all of the time. This is hardly probable cause for strip-searching all passengers.

Privacy Commissioner
Why should airport security be given more latitude under the law than a police officer?

Jennifer Stoddard, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, believes that the ends justify the means. In a recent letter to the Ottawa Citizen and posted to her website, she outlined the 4-point test that she applied to this question.

The 4-point test applied by Ms. Stoddard starts with (1) “Is the measure necessary to address a specific risk?”. In other words are the means necessary to achieve the ends?

If so the ends justify the means as long as (2) they work, (3) the loss of privacy is proportional to the identified need (i.e. loss of privacy caused by the means is proportionate to the ends that are to be achieved), and (4) there is no less privacy invasive way of achieving the same end. It is all about the ends justifying the means.

Perhaps the reason why the Privacy Commissioner of Canada does not defend our privacy rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is because she has no mandate to do so.

According to the Privacy Act that defines her office and duties, the Privacy Commissioner is limited to reviewing situatations only pertaining to the privacy of information about an individual and not the individual’s inaliable rights and freedoms. The letter on her website confirms that “… it is neither our duty nor expertise to assess the aviation threat and risk assessments…”

In other words her office has no business making a decision on CATSA’s request to strip search Canadians – whether it is done virtually or otherwise.

Just because the Privacy Commissioner says it’s OK to do so doesn’t change that fact that full body scanning and pat-downs without probable cause is a violation of our Charter Rights.

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Green Party passes NDP?

Canadian Politics

Nationwide

A new EKOS poll shows that Canadian support for the Green Party is significantly higher in all regions except for Alberta, where it is holding steady.

The EKOS poll asked Canadians “If a Federal election were held tomorrow, who would you vote for?”.

Nationally, 13.4% of Canadians would vote Green, up 2.2 points. In British Columbia, Green support has jumped 6.2 points to a high of 18.5 and a similar jump of 5.1 points appears in Atlantic Canada.

Ekos January 2010 Poll

Canada (MoE 2.4)

Conservatives: 33.1 (-2.8)
Liberals: 27.8 (+1.1)
NDP: 16.0 (-1.0)
Green: 13.4 (+2.2)
Bloc Quebecois*: 9.8 (+0.6)
Undecided: 14.7


The EKOS poll would have you believe that the Green Party has now surpassed the NDP in both Ontario and Quebec.  A review of the statistics shows (sadly) that this conclusion is premature.

Provincial Details

British Columbia (MoE 7.32)
Conservatives: 34.2 (-0.8)
NDP: 25.9 (-2.9)
Liberals:  21.4 (-2.2)
Green: 18.5 (+6.2)

Note that with a margin of error of 7.32, the Green Party could place as high as 2nd in BC standings, but more than likely in 3rd place as only 1/2 of the MoE is needed to overtake the Liberals.

Alberta (MoE 8.95)
Conservatives: 61.7 (+1.0)
Liberals: 15.0 (+1.1)
Green: 13.2 (-1.9)
NDP: 10.0 (-0.4)

With a MoE of nearly 9, the Green Party could also place 2nd in Alberta on the high side and drop to a 2% last place on the low side.  Again only 1/2 MoE is necessary to take 2nd place.

Saskatchewan/Manitoba (MoE 11.55)
Conservatives: 48.6 (-4.5)
NDP: 27.3 (+6.8)
Liberals: 12.4 (-5.2)
Green: 11.7 (+2.9)

The MoE is almost the same as the entire Green score.  Both the Greens and Liberals are barely statistically significant in the mid-west.  Is this the Oil Sand’s effect skewing the Saskatchewan results?

Ontario (MoE 3.91)
Liberals: 36.0 (+2.5)
Conservatives: 35.4 (-3.6)
Green: 14.3 (+1.6)
NDP: 14.2 (-0.6)

The MoE of close to 4 indicates that the Greens & NDP are tied for 3rd in Ontario as are the Liberals and Conservatives for 1st.

Quebec (MoE 4.85)
Bloc Quebecois: 38.2 (+1.4)
Liberals: 27.5 (+2.9)
Conservatives: 14.6 (-2.7)
Green: 10.2 (+1.5)
NDP: 9.6 (-3.2)

Statistically, the Greens, Conservatives, and NDP are tied for 3rd in Quebec.

Atlantic Canada (10.82)
Conservatives: 32.6 (-2.6)
Liberals: 28.4 (-2.8)
NDP: 27.2 (+0.3)
Green: 11.8 (+5.1)

With a MoE of close to 11 the Green Party is not statistically relevant in Atlantic Canada and there is a 3-way horse race for 1st.

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