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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Security by stupidity
John Howard, Australian Prime Minister, BBC
Australian worries about security have come in for criticism
Airport security guards who mistook a bottle of perfume for a chemical weapon have become one of the winners of a competition to find the world's most stupid security measure.

The informal competition was run by civil liberties group Privacy International which wanted to find the daftest security measure introduced in the wake of the September 11 attack.

Other winners included security staff who forced a woman to drink the breast milk she was planning to feed her baby and the Australian government for spending millions to warn against phantom terror threats.

Privacy International said the competition attracted more than 5,000 nominations from 35 countries.

Check point

After September 11 many organisations and public buildings introduced security and identity checks to foil future attacks.

However, experts believe that many of the checks do little to improve safety, are poorly implemented and simply irritate innocent people.

St Basil cathedral in Moscow, BBC
Moscow's mayor won an award for imposing stupid security checks
"Security has become the smokescreen for incompetent and robotic managers the world over," said Simon Davies, director of Privacy International.

Winner of the "Most Egregiously Stupid Award" was the Australian government for a series of policies and education campaigns, which included the distribution of leaflets and fridge magnets, to warn citizens about terror risks and how to cope with chemical attacks.

The hugely expensive campaign was carried out despite the fact that there is little suggestion that Australia is a target for terror groups.

Danger man

Airport security guards at Philadelphia international airport won the "Most Inexplicably Stupid Award" for mistaking a bottle of cologne for a chemical weapon.

Some of the contents of the bottle were accidentally sprayed on security staff during a routine check of a Saudi Arabian student's baggage.

This caused airport authorities to summon hazardous materials specialists, FBI and police officers for help.

Sharp objects confiscated at airports, PA
Many airport security staff are still confiscating sharp objects
The workers sprayed with the perfume were quarantined for three hours until the cologne was identified as cologne.

Security staff at the Delta airlines terminal at JFK airport also won the "Most Flagrantly Intrusive Award" for forcing a woman to drink three bottles of her own breast milk and justified the demand by claiming that there could be explosives in the bottles.

Other winners include San Francisco general hospital, which posted guards on its front entrance but left all side entrances free of security checks, and the T-Mobile phone firm which demands several identifying documents before it lets people top-up their phone accounts.

"The situation has become more than an irritation to the public," said Mr Davies, "It has become an outright danger."

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