Bruce Schneier is an internationally renowned security technologist and author. Described by The Economist as a “security guru,” he is best known as a refreshingly candid and lucid security critic and commentator. When people want to know how security really works, they turn to Schneier.
The man knows of which he speaks: in 1992, he developed the Blowfish encryption algorithm, a keyed, symmetric block cipher that is still in use today.
His first bestseller, Applied Cryptography, explained how the arcane science of secret codes actually works, and was described by Wired as “the book the National Security Agency wanted never to be published.”
So, if he says something isn’t right, I’m willing to listen. And he says that airline security isn’t right. He recently debated former TSA Administrator Kip Hawley on the “Economist” website. You can find the debate here.
In his latest issue of CRYPTO-GRAM, his monthly security newsletter (subscribe free here), he summarizes his position and points out what I consider illogic that pervades our entire government. Schneier is highly critical of the measures in place today and suggests that airports are effectively rights-free zones. I suggest that such things are reactions to irrational fear; perpetrated by insane men that would have us all believe that terrorists are waiting in every public venue to kill us all. That’s absolutely ridiculous. You don’t have to look into it very far to see:
Kip Hawley doesn’t argue with the specifics of my criticisms, but instead provides anecdotes and asks us to trust that airport security — and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in particular — knows what it’s doing.
He wants us to trust that a 400-ml bottle of liquid is dangerous, but transferring it to four 100-ml bottles magically makes it safe. He wants us to trust that the butter knives given to first-class passengers are nevertheless too dangerous to be taken through a security checkpoint. He wants us to trust the no-fly list: 21,000 people so dangerous they’re not allowed to fly, yet so innocent they can’t be arrested. He wants us to trust that the deployment of expensive full-body scanners has nothing to do with the fact that the former secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, lobbies for one of the companies that makes them. He wants us to trust that there’s a reason to confiscate a cupcake (Las Vegas), a 3-inch plastic toy gun (London Gatwick), a purse with an embroidered gun on it (Norfolk, VA), a T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it (London Heathrow) and a plastic lightsaber that’s really a flashlight with a long cone on top (Dallas/Fort Worth).
His summary of the harms done post-9/11 by increased “security” measures is spot-on: “That we allow governments to do these things to us — to effectively do the terrorists’ job for them — is the greatest harm of all.”
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”]]>
Certainly none of us want to make it easier for terrorists to accomplish their missions – but I can’t help wondering where an all-out effort to do away with everything that might aid the bad guys will lead us. After all, it’s well documented that terrorists also use cell phones and email to further their plotting. Does that mean we should shut down those communications systems, as well?
If you think about it, it’s a slippery slope. Do you take away tools that have valuable legitimate uses by law abiding citizens just because criminals can use them to commit crimes? That’s the premise of gun control laws, but in the U.S., those laws have had dismal success records. Do we really want to extend that philosophy to Internet sites and services?
Deb is not proposing such action, of course (she’s way too level-headed to suggest such a thing); she’s asking the hard questions. But there are even harder questions to ask, questions that go well beyond restricting communication lines, and I’m not shy when it comes to speaking out against further restrictions to our liberty based upon some perceived threat. These questions may seem extreme, but use your imagination. How bad could it get?
Terrorists have to eat; do we refuse to sell food to anyone on a terrorist watch list? Does the government take over food distribution? Terrorists drive motor vehicles; does every driver have to be pre-screened before getting a license and then “approved” to buy a vehicle? Will farmers, who use nitrate fertilizers capable of being turned into explosives, be subject to purchase limits based on the number of acres they farm? After all, a terrorist posing as a farmer could buy tons of the stuff and then blow up half a town.
Anything a “normal” human being does or uses in the course of day-to-day living would also be done or used by a terrorist; they are, after all, human beings, too.
I’ll tell you where an all-out effort to do away with everything that might aid the bad guys will lead us: a total police state–your every move monitored, every purchase you make subject to scrutiny and/or approval, every communication medium you use monitored 24/7, everything you say subject to interpretation by Homeland Security. The whole country would be a prison, a guard at every street corner, dusk-to-dawn curfews in force, shopping and visits with friends and family monitored and subject to time limits.
Any atrocity you can imagine would be possible–and likely. It would make the dystopia depicted in George Orwell’s novel, “1984,” seem like utopia.
What do you think?]]>