Security Theatre Ad Absurdum

Much has been made of all the post 9/11 security theatre at airports. Some of it is legitimate criticism, some I feel is just taking easy shots at people trying to do a difficult and unrewarding job. That being said, I feel like every time I see an article about red team training exercises at the TSA, an embarrassing number of weapons make it through. An objective lens absolutely needs to be taken to our airport security to actually make it efficient and useful.

One would think the private sector wouldn't suffer from so much security theatre. Companies in the private sector are afterall beholden to their shareholders and investors. It simply wouldn't make sense to waste money on security theatre. Maybe there's an argument to be made that most people don't understand it's theatre and the deterrent effect of a solution that otherwise doesn't work may justify the cost.

Either way, I've been in the UK for the last month and today I saw what is possibly the most ridiculous security measure I've ever encountered.

The loal grocery store near our vacation rental, a Sainsbury's, is almost entirely self checkout. There are around 20 self checkout stations, divided into one area for people with just a few items where the checkouts are packed together, and another area for people with a fully trolley where they need a bit more space. This morning as I attempted to exit with a few groceries, I, and all the other shoppers, found they had installed a gate. People were confused as the gate didn't simply swing open when pushed.

The store employee managing the self checkout area realized people were backing up and rushed over to explain: they had installed a receipt scanner, poorly labelled, immediately to the left of the gate. To exit the self checkout area you now had to scan your receipt... I guess this is something they started rolling out a the end of 2022 and I was unlucky enough to run into it.

Now, I've gotten used to stores in the US that have somebody at the exit checking receipts. I'll stop for the ones at Costco because I figure they can always choose to revoke my membership. The rest, I just say "thanks" and walk on past. They have no right or power to stop you. In the Costco example though, the people at least take a quick glance over your cart and if you have say, a case of champagne, or a TV, they make sure it shows up on your reciept. It's pure deterrent, if somebody is going to steal they're going to run straight past the reciept checker, but at least they're actually doing something.

An automated receipt scanner on the other hand is literally doing nothing. If somebody wants to steal, the gate is sufficiently low they can just hop over it, or I'd hazard a guess it's weak enough somebody could push through it, or just walk out the entrance rather than trying to go out the exit. The only thing this new "security" is doing is annoying legitimate customers.

Sainbury's claims it's to cut down on shoplifting, which has apparently soared over the last year or more due to the cost of living crisis. I don't care how much, or little, it cost to install, this is a bad use of money. I'd love to see any kind of data proving they see a drop in stolen product after installing them. Maybe it's simply about temporarily pushing shoplifters to other stores. That seems very short sighted. Tesco is apparently also trying out these receipt scanners and once everyone has them, they're no longer a distinguishing deterrent and everyone has wasted money and annoyed real customers.

On a related note, US retail workers should take note of the huge self checkout areas. I've heard straight denial, first hand, from retail employees in US grocery stores that they're not going to be replaced by banks of self checkout machines. It won't be next year but it's coming. If you're old enough, maybe it won't affect you, but your employers are absolutely looking at how to cut costs by replacing humans with computers.

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