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On antivirus software, the Maginot Line, and how hotels can nudge their guests to act more safely
With so much security theater taking place in the modern world around us, it can be altogether too easy for individuals to come to believe that security is a product delivered by other people (the TSA, antivirus software makers, armed guards, credit-card companies, and countless others), when it is actually a process constantly underway that requires the active participation of all decent people of goodwill.
■ Consider the routine act of a hotel check-in. Attorney Michelle Strowhiro praises the night auditor of a Texas hotel for a simple but highly security-conscious act: "Ray wrote my hotel room number on the key envelope, pointed to it, & said: 'This is your room number. I'm not going to say it out loud.'"
■ The practice of keeping quiet about a traveler's room number is increasingly widespread, but it's not universal yet. That much is worth changing institutionally; every chain ought to make it standard operating procedure to discreetly write the number so that it cannot be eavesdropped or snooped by a passerby or by someone else in line. But it is quite nearly just as important for check-in staff to advise guests of the value of that discretion.
■ It's not uncommon for guests to check in when they are tired, distracted, or under some form of stress. And people under stressful conditions do not make decisions in the same way as people acting without stress. Gentle reminders to take part in one's own guest security (for instance, by not blabbing aloud about room numbers) are prudent ways for hoteliers to enhance the security process. "I'm not going to say it out loud" is an unobtrusive way of hinting "And you shouldn't, either".
■ Security is never really permanent, since those out to do wrong will perpetually have incentives to find ways around whatever new obstacles we put up: Despite the Maginot Line, France still fell quickly in World War II. Everyone has a significant part to play in their own security, and the more often and thoughtfully we are nudged to take that role seriously, the better -- even when checking in at a hotel.