Schneier on Security
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August 15, 2007
How to Escape from Plastic Police Handcuffs
Posted on August 15, 2007 at 12:28 PM
• 21 Comments
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Not a realistic way to escape from the police. As noted in some of the comments on the linked video, it's easy enough for the police to position your hands so you wouldn't be able to get a pin in there.
Could be used to impress your friends, though.
Someone already posted a different video using these same cuffs a while ago. In neither video does the demonstration show someone being able to actually extricate themselves from a pair of cuffs that are actually pulled tight.
It has long been the case that the "secret" to getting out of handcuffs is well known. All police handcuffs use the same simple key. The problem is that hinged cuffs are place on the suspect behind their backs and with the keyhole facing away from their hands, making self-escape nearly impossible even with access to a key concealed key. Similar issues are likely to be the case with the plastic cuffs when properly applied to a suspect--otherwise the video would show how to get out of them when they are properly applied.
BTW, this video was made by the same bonehead who demonstrated how to easily place a 16x DVD burner laser into a mini mag-light housing without bothering to mention that a 16x DVD burner laser is a class IIIb laser that is up to 250x more powerful than a 1mW laser pointer and can cause instant eye damage (.001 seconds) faster than a human can blink.
Yawn. He should have used his homemade laser disguised as a flashlight to burn them off. And since it's behind his back, hey presto, no accidental eye exposure.
Plastic handcuffs are more flexible, if they are behind your back you can bring them to the side and look at them. It is a very doable trick. Much more so than metal handcuffs, some of which use real locks.
Why are you posting this, Bruce? Is it because you think we all may need the info, because of this:
"[NYPD says that] average [US] citizens ... pose a mounting threat to American security that could exceed that of established terrorist groups like al-Qaida..."
Plastic handcuffs are more flexible, if they are behind your back you can bring them to the side and look at them. It is a very doable trick. Much more so than metal handcuffs, some of which use real locks."
Indeed, I do readily acknowledge such to be true...and the mechanism is not facing away from the hands in the same way that the keyhole in a pair of hinged cuffs is, but I don't think this will necessarily make an escape easy. Still, the only convincing demonstration would be one with the demonstrator unlocking them from a properly cuffed position.
I would imagine the pin issue is a known flaw. I've pins to undo zip ties for years (not cuffs) and it is rather the obvious thing to do when you don't want to destroy the zip tie or don't have a cutting tool handy.
Now we know how Osama got away.
"[NYPD says that] average [US] citizens ... pose a mounting threat to American security"
That same AP article goes on to say:
"...describes a process in which young men — often legal immigrants from the Middle East who are frustrated with their lives in their adopted country"
I wouldn't describe immigrants who are frustrated with their lives in their adopted country as "average citizens." The same article also mentions jihadist recruitment going on in our prisons. Again, I wouldn't call convicted criminals "average citizens."
Read the report, it never mentions "average citizens." Instead, it mentions '"unremarkable" local residents/citizens'. "Unremarkable" is a lot different than "average." The AP article subtly distorts the report's findings (it changed only one word), to give it a more "OMG the government suspects everyone" flavor.
Jack Bauer could do it without a pin
The main problem with handcuffs goes deeper than that. A thin but stiff strip of metal run inside the cuffs (along the double-pronged side) can pop open the mechanism, no key required. If they're double-locked, a smack against something solid will fix that, again no key required. This is nothing new or revolutionary - magicians have been doing this for decades now.
It does, however, suggest what cuffs (plastic or metal) are good for, and what they are not. They're not meant to leave people shackled unsupervised and/or without some secondary means of enclosure (i.e. the back of a squad car, or in a prison cell). Most physical restraints aren't good at withstanding a knowledgable or determined person with even improvised tools.
"Read the report, it never mentions "average citizens."
The first two words of the article are "Average citizens".
Average citizens aren't convicted criminals. Until they're convicted.
Perhaps the takeaway from the article could be that many officers of the law won't read the full report, but rather will read only the first part of the article.
You're missing the point. The *AP article* to which you linked mentions "average citizens." The *NYPD report* itself never uses that phrase. The AP article distorts what the NYPD report says. That's my whole point: the AP article is unnecessarily alarmist.
> Average citizens aren't convicted criminals. Until they're convicted.
US prison population: 2.2 million
US total population: 301.1 million
Fraction of US population in prison: 0.73%
The US may have the highest prison population in the world (it would be a whole lot less if we didn't have such insane drug laws; 57% of federal prisoners are there for drug offenses), but it's still less than 1% of our total population. I don't think it is an unfair characterization to say that the people who get convicted of crimes by and large are not average citizens. Average citizens don't commit murder, rape, robbery, extortion, etc.
Incarceration statistics are from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...
You're missing the point. The article will be read by millions. The full report will be read by thousands, at best.
1,000 = 0.1% of 1,000,000.
3,000 = 0.1% of 3,000,000.
Many police officers don't look too far for a reason to feel threatened by suspicious persons in public, and this report both widens the definition of suspicious and provides sufficient justification for feeling threatened.
The article states "average citizen", and the article will be the form of the information that will be used by law enforcement to justify further expansion of the "acceptable range" of police behaviour toward the "average citizen".
How many political prisoners did the USSR have before 1918 (real numbers and percentage) ?
How many political prisoners did the USSR have 10 years later?
It shouldn't come as much of a shock that those who are in the business of enforcing will use what's easily available as justification for enforcement.
Another good way to get out of those is with a cigarette lighter. The nylon plastic has a very low melting point - just a few seconds exposure to a Bic lighter will soften them to the point of being easily broken.
A Zippo style lighter can be lit with one hand and stays on. Perfect for "self rescue" attempts.
Although the ellipsis that you use is disingenuous as it generalises the meaning, even the radical statement you've portrayed can be refactored:
"US citizens pose a mounting threat to American security that could exceed that of established terrorist groups like al-Qaida" = "Americans are more in danger from themselves than they are from terrorists"
I think that the motoring and home accident figures bear this out.
I'm more worried about the US declaring war on the Internet: http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/...
The drawbacks to this scenario: having a pin available and accessible from the most likely position where you would be cuffed, i.e., with your hands behind your back.
Secondly, these zip cuffs - I believe the brand is ASP (same folks who make telescoping batons) - are primarily intended for large-scale crowd control efforts, so you'd likely be in a packed area with plenty of oversight.
> You're missing the point. The article will be read by millions. The full report will be read by thousands, at best.
I'm not missing the point, I understand that full well. There will be millions of people unnecessarily alarmed by a biased press account of what, to my eyes, looks like a pretty reasonable bit of intelligence work. I can't say whether or not the report overstates the *size* of the problem (as far as I can tell it doesn't actually try to assign a quantitative size), but it does a good job of describing its *nature*, and that's the part which is most useful to other police departments.
> the article will be the form of the information that will be used by law enforcement
That's absurd. No police department in its right mind would use a press report as a subsitute for an actual intelligence analysis. Did you even bother reading the report? It's 90 pages long, not the one or two pages of the AP article. Those 90 pages are full of exactly the sort of details you'd expect in an intelligence report, and it's those details that make the report useful to other police departments.
If you're planning on getting put in these cuffs, putting a pin or two in the back of your pants shouldn't be too difficult. Naked protests will be more difficult.
In a large crowd, all the more reason why you'll be able to squirm to access the pin and move around enough to insert it into the cuffs.
Isn't security just a form of risk management? You do *security stuff* to make it harder for bad guys to do *undesirable stuff*.
Security isn't supposed to be fool-proof, it's supposed to make life harder (not necessarily hard) for the bad guys. Plastic cuffs will slow most people down enough to matter, and if it was that important an arrest, the cops would have you in the full Hannibal Lecter setup.
It's no different to how you think about computer security or encryption.
Thanks for all the great info. I'm a science-fiction writer working on a novel set 20 years in the future. If you have any ideas about the type of handcuffs we'll be using at that time (and how one might escape from them), please drop me a note at email@example.com. I've currently written in plasticuffs, but I imagine if those are still in use, they'll be modified in some way. Or we may have something totally different.
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