Mike Koozmin/2011 S.F. Examiner file photoBay to Breakers’ backpack ban and crackdown on unregistered runners have been called ineffective.

Security expert decries new Bay to Breakers safety plan

A security expert has judged new safety measures for the Craigslist Bay to Breakers race that include a ban on backpacks and containers over a certain size to be “really stupid.”

Race organizers and San Francisco police on Monday announced that unregistered runners would be removed from the course. In addition, any bag or container 8½-by-11-by-4 inches or larger will be banned. The security measures are in response to the deadly bombings last month at the Boston Marathon, where two explosive devices carried in backpacks were detonated near crowds of people amassed near the finish line.

The backpack ban at Bay to Breakers drew a withering response from Bruce Schneier, a security expert, cryptographer and outspoken critic of the Transportation Security Administration.

He mocked the size limit as arbitrary, since bombs can be made smaller than the dimensions that are banned.
Schneier added that San Francisco has plenty of competition when it comes to knee-jerk overreactions to the Boston bombings.

“You want to get stupider?” asked Schneier, who coined the phrase “security theater” to describe overt, heavy-handed responses to terror that make people no safer. “The Kentucky Derby is banning cameras that have interchangeable lenses.”

Unlike the Boston Marathon — where onlookers massed at the finish line to cheer on participants — Bay to Breakers runners and observers tend to form a mobile drinking party through the entire city.

That would render a backpack ban even more difficult. But Schneier feels it’s a fool’s errand regardless. When asked if it’s even possible to weed out everyone with bags exceeding 8½-by-11-by-4 inches from a citywide course, he replied, “of course not. But they can make life miserable for some of them.”

The proper course of action for the Bay to Breakers, he continued, would be “The same thing they’re doing to stave off an alien invasion: Nothing.”

joe.eskenazi@sfweekly.com

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