diamond geezer

 Saturday, November 19, 2005

Homeland security

I arrived home yesterday evening, unlocked the front door of the block where I live and pushed open the door to the tiny mailroom just inside the entrance. There was no genuine mail in my letterbox, as usual, but lying on the floor of my box I discovered a brand new key. It was big and shiny, one of those long tubular metal keys with a thin metal prong at one end, and attached to a cheap plastic key fob of the sort you can buy in bulk at any local market. I wasn't expecting to receive a new key, and so was mystified as to which door it might open. Maybe it was for the main entrance, although I'd expect the door out onto the street to be secured by something a little more resilient. Maybe it was for my own front door, although if someone had come along to change my locks I'd have hoped to have been informed first. Or maybe it was for my mailbox, although the key looked more suited to a pirate's treasure chest than to a small wooden receptacle stuffed with junkmail and pizza delivery leaflets. Hmm.

I'd arrived home at the same time as another resident, and she too discovered a similar giant key in her mailbox. She thought for a while, and then wondered whether this might be connected to the recent spate of mailbox thefts in our block. Or at least she said she'd once had a package ripped open, its contents stolen and the empty envelope left lying on the mailroom floor. You can't access our mailroom from the street, so this terrible crime must have been perpetrated by one of the block's residents. How awful not to be able to trust even one's own neighbours. So we had a look around and checked the door leading from the entrance lobby into the mailroom and yes, sure enough, a brand new keyhole had been drilled into the wood. The hole was a little low, I thought, unless you were one of the many dwarves who might be moving into our block at some point in the near future. But the new key fitted the new hole, so it was clearly somebody's intention that our mailroom become lockable.

My first concern was that the lock on the mailroom door had no clear 'start date'. We could have locked the door on our way out, but that would have prevented any other residents who'd not yet checked their mail from entering the room to collect their new key. Would it be safe to lock the mailroom tomorrow? Probably not. How about Monday? Maybe, but still maybe not. Something here felt a little under-thought-out. And then it struck me how pointless this new security measure really is. If the recent mailbox thefts really had been carried out by a resident, then what was the point of locking the door and giving every resident a key. If that person still wants to force open another mailbox and rip open another package while they're checking their own mail, then they still can. Brilliant.

No doubt somebody, somewhere in our management company is feeling very smug. A security issue has arisen and they've taken what they think is firm decisive action to stamp it out. Except they haven't. All they've done is to placate a minority of short-sighted outspoken residents by inconveniencing the rest of us. Now every time I want to check my mail I need two keys, one to the mailroom and one to my box. The additional lock is badly placed and cumbersome, which will waste hours of my time over the next few years. I now have to carry this stonking great key around with me everywhere I go, weighing me down and burning a hole in my pocket. Worst of all, none of this extra hassle actually protects my mail, which was the supposed point of introducing this measure in the first place.

I'm sure this dull parochial tale is of no interest whatsoever to the rest of you. But I tell my story because it reminds me of the current UK political debate about . These kneejerk measures may sound like a good idea at face value, and they may help certain gullible members of the public to feel safer, but their practical impact is more negative than positive. Any capable criminal can easily find a way to bypass each of them () while the rest of us just have our civil liberties ratcheted down another notch. In protest, every time I find my mailroom locked I'm considering accidentally forgetting to lock the door again on my way out. It may only be a small act of defiance, but it's the least I can do. And, if anybody ever writes to me to complain, I shall of course claim never to have received the letter.

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