I’ve been thinking a bit lately about security overkill. This includes not just the notion of “security theater” — security measures meant to inspire comfort by mere show of force/complexity — but the many instances in which someone places a layer of security between me and my everyday activities with no apparent benefit whatsoever.
My bank would surely argue that its many and various anti-fraud measures are valuable but in truth a) they are meant to protect the bank, not me; and b) they are cumbersome to the point of ridiculous. It’s gotten to where I can predict which credit-card charge will trigger the bank’s idiot algorithm and freeze my account because it didn’t like the Zip code where I used the card.
And security overkill has trickled down into the civilian world. When the class parents at my kids’ school send out a list of parent contact info at the start of each school year, it comes via a password-protected Excel spreadsheet. Keep in mind this list doesn’t contain Social Security numbers or bank information — just names, addresses, and phone numbers of the kids’ parents. I can imagine the day several months hence when someone actually needs to use the list and will find herself locked out by the long-forgotten password.
The most outrageous example of security overkill I’ve run across recently was at the 30th Street Station, the main train terminal, in Philadelphia. Here’s what I saw in the men’s room:
If you can’t make out the image — it’s a locked diaper-changing station with a handwritten message saying “see attendant for combination.” I’m sure we could dream up some bad things that might happen on an unlocked diaper-changing tray, and I’m guessing as with most security overkill this was inspired by one anomalous event that scared the jeepers out of someone (or got that someone’s lawyers involved). But still …
Please share your security-overkill stories in the comments below. And if you have pictures, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.