If You're Watching Everyone, You're Watching No One

from the try-to-focus dept

The idea has become so commonplace that it's almost a cliche: security and privacy are opposites, and we as a society need to decide how much privacy we're willing to give up to get more security. That's been the basic message of the Bush administration over the last few months as they've begun talking about ambitious new plans to monitor more and more of our private communications. But Bruce Schneier points out that the dichotomy is false one. Many of the privacy-invading programs now being discussed don't actually provide more security. Confiscating shaving cream and nail files at the airport doesn't make anyone safer. Neither does creating a national ID card, because terrorists rely on surprise, not anonymity. The fundamental issue is that real security involves focusing resources on identifying and stopping the tiny fraction of the population that is engaged in criminal and terrorist acts. The vast majority of people pose no threat to anyone, and it's a waste of resources to monitor them. Programs focused on the general public, such as the TSA's airport searches, national ID cards, and Internet-wide surveillance are a bottomless drain on law enforcement resources that will turn up far more false positives than real leads. Abandoning them won't just enhance Americans' civil liberties, but it will also free up resources for the sort of difficult, in-depth police work that really does stop terrorist attacks.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

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    elijah dukes, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:10am

    Well, what is their intent?

    I think they are perfectly happy to decrease civil liberties. I think they realize that the biggest threats to their well being are not terrorist attacks, but rather an informed populace.

    This is one more step in controlling the populace. Even better since we're asking for it.

     

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    Ajax 4Hire, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:14am

    This is similar to the random searches

    at the airport.

    The comical sight of the old lady suffering the ignominy of a 2nd pat down search as she boards the plane.

    Profiling would be consider politically incorrect.
    There is a point in Apocalypse Now where Colonel Kurtz kills 3 local Vietnamese and the attacks stop.

    The whole idea of profiling is to hone your search criteria to those who may really pose a threat.
    The solutions in place now are simple wider and wider nets that catch nothing. Like a farmer fisherman that takes in the whole ocean, bruses the entire lot and throws it all back. Who has the TSA really caught?

    It is so true, you try to secure everyone by searching everyone only to have no one safe.

    I am disgusted in the state of US Security everytime I fly.
    Taking my shoes off, my belt, crotch pat down, luggage opened and "inspected" and yet I feel no safer just more abused.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:18am

    According to your BBC article that talks about what really stops terrorists, it is apparently surveillance with Global Dimensons, but maybe you didn't read the whole article.

     

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      Anonymous, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:42am

      Re:

      You can survey without knowing my business. You dont need my phone calls or emails to survey... If you give out your bank account number to the government is it secure? no, someone else knows it. So security and privacy go hand in hand. To keep your bank account secure you must keep it private.

      They are playing to the stupid with this you must sacrifice privacy for security... They are 2 halves of the same sphere.

       

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      4-80-sicks, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 1:54pm

      Re:

      According to your BBC article that talks about what really stops terrorists, it is apparently surveillance with Global Dimensons, but maybe you didn't read the whole article.

      If the "global dimensions" were actually productive, shouldn't some terrists have been caught at Heathrow, where such measures were taken and where they are cancelling outbound services and delaying long-haul services? Well, never mind context...

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2008 @ 9:57am

        Re: Re:

        Was that comment suppose to counter my comment or are you just making your case to on Beauty and the Geek?

         

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    A. L. Flanagan, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:39am

    Bruce Schneier is great

    The guy should be made head of Homeland Security. Wouldn't happen in a million years, the security vendors ripping us all off wouldn't allow it.

     

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    yogi, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:42am

    As an Israeli

    I can assure you that the purpose of this so called enhanced security effort is simply to harass the population and make it easier to control.
    Once you get used to being checked, patted down and turned inside out everywhere you go - what is left, really? How much liberty?
    Not much.You become an obedient sheep.

    The Democrats will be no different - they crave power and control as much as the Republicans if not more so.

    Baaaaa

     

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    Eyad, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    Preach! Preach!

    Amen to this article.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:00am

    What people fail to remember is that the NSA was not listening in to what people were saying, they were monitoring who was talking to whom. That is the key, and an important security issue.

    Random airport searches do make it more difficult for terrorists, becasue there is no pattern, no way to determine who will be searched. Another issue is the longer you stand in line, the longer authorities can look at those standing in line.

    Look at how El Al does security. They talk to everyone getting on board. Physical security at its most basic. How many El Al flights have had problems?

     

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      Vincent Clement, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:30am

      Re:

      It only took 8 posts before someone mentioned the supposed 1Holy Grail of airline security: El Al.

      There are two international airports and nine domestic airports. That's it. How many international and domestic airports are there in the US? In Canada? In Europe?

      Ben Gurion International Airport handled 10 million passengers in 2007. Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport handled over 84 million passengers in 2006. I'm thinking the level of security provided by El Al will not scale up well.

       

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      Alimas, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:46am

      Re:

      How many American flights?
      Before and after 9/11 the amount of flights with security issues due to a person with intent to to take violent action on the flight (regardless of reason or categorical position) is overwhelmingly tiny compared to the number of incident less flights.
      Sacrificing parts of the nation's personal privacy is not a balanced course of action against the very meager alleged threat.

       

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      corporatedave, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 2:38pm

      Re:

      Why did the NSA require a full copy of everything going through AT&T wiring closets to just examine the connections? Why are they using Narus machines that have the potential to semantically analyze that traffic and reconstruct every bit of the traffic that passes through them? Why do they have to lie to us about whats going on? Why do they have to lie lie lie...?

      Its too late

       

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    Killer_Tofu (profile), Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:21am

    Fully Agree

    with poster #4
    Bruce Schneier would be awesome as the head of Homeland Security.
    If he was, after his changes were implemented, I would almost assuredly feel safer.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:43am

    Vince, true, but personally if I am on a flight that blows up, I really won't care if the airline was busy or not.

     

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      Vincent Clement, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:54am

      Re:

      Here is the thing: it wasn't poor airport security that caused 9/11. It was rules that allowed items such as box cutters on airlines and did not require airlines to have a secure door to the cockpit.

      The TSA is a complete joke. Does El Al require all their passengers to remove their shoes before they pass through security? The no-fly list is a farce.

      If you want El Al security then demand airports provide that level of security and have airport passengers pay for it. We don't need another government department.

       

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        Alimas, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 12:54pm

        Re: Re:

        Can't argue against the secure door thing, you'd think that common sense when designing a plane. Not just to ward off terrorists. What if a stupid and rowdy passenger got in the cockpit and was distracting the pilots at a critical moment?
        But box cutters? Are you kidding me? That just shows how cowardly most of our populace is. The people are like fat sheep before the slaughter.
        Someone tries to hold me up with a box cutter I'll break the hand hes holding the damn thing with.

         

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    Incredulous, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:44am

    The land of the formerly free, home of the formerly brave.

     

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      Vincent Clement, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:57am

      Re:

      Yes, I love sitting in a tunnel for 40 minutes and then another 20 minutes in the US customs plaza to go do some shopping in Detroit. Yes, most of us Canadians are card-carrying terrorists.

       

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    Someone, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:00am

    Hmm

    You guys keep saying that they shouldn't be doing this to EVERYONE to find these people you should just be doing it to these people. How do you propose we find these people to look at? As 8 said they aren't listening to your call its who your talking to. That way they can make a match of "Oh he's talking to someone that is a known terrorist" But otherwise, we are only going to be looking in one direction, when as posted they are looking for the element of surprise, looking for new people that, we aren't going to know about. So how do you try to protect your country against these people when you don't even know who these people are?

     

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      Alimas, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 12:34pm

      Re: Hmm

      Your missing the point entirely.
      It isn't that we should be looking at just "these people", its that the search for just "those people" shouldn't involve prying into people's personal lives.
      As a matter of fact, the government agencies should be doing everything in their power to make sure they are never infringing on the privacy and rights of individual Americans UNLESS it can prove to a judge that the individual is a physical threat to one or more other individuals.

       

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    poss, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:13am

    Pertinent quote

    "Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both." -- Ben Franklin

     

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    Eileen, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:35am

    that's a thomas jefferson quote

     

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    Griper, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:46am

    How long will it be until the government suggests that it will be safer for us to live in walled communities similar to maximum security prisons. It would be pretty hard for a terroist to infiltrate. That way we can all live safe and secure knowing the government is taking care of us. Who cares if we can't live free, we'll be safe.

     

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    Dave Zawislak, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:47am

    Airport security is a snipe hunt.

    If there was any real threat anymore, the airport security lines would be blowing up right now.

     

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    Mark, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 11:54am

    The real "war" on terror is an Intelligence War. Israelis stop suicide attacks because they know the bomber's name, when, where, and how he/she's going to do it. To get that information requires constant NSA-type surveillance (terrorists have to communicate), good 'ol street work, and cooperation with foreign govt's to find the root sponsors.

    I agree TSA's fast-food approach to security is basically worthless. Much like surveillance cameras, they cannot possibly process ALL information (especially with minimum wage former McDonald's workers) at a single, real-time point and expect to be successful.

    Catching terrorists is like breaking the mob: it takes PROFESSIONALS years of stake-outs, infiltration, and paying off/letting off sleazeballs to get to the head of the snake.

    Properly fund and restore the morale of the CIA and FBI with the right mission, and we will win.

     

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    Joe Schmoe, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 12:27pm

    "...Random airport searches do make it more difficult for terrorists, becasue there is no pattern, no way to determine who will be searched. Another issue is the longer you stand in line, the longer authorities can look at those standing in line..."

    Bullshit. "Random" searches as they are now, are driven by politically correctiveness where they are obligated to pull "seemingly random" people aside so that, oh my gosh, we don't discriminate [target] anyone.

    The more time spent being "correct", the less time and ability we have to learn and catch who we should be paying attention to.

     

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      Alimas, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 12:49pm

      Re:

      Go tell that to a holocaust survivor.
      Go tell him/her that the government assigning a problem to a specific race/religion/ethnicity is justifiable.
      Go do some personal research on past and present societies that did or do target specific ethnic (or sexual, religious, etc..) and learn how disgusting your statement was.

      People need to start actually learning from history.

       

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    Overcast, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 1:26pm

    Yeah, you're right.

    It really doesn't matter if someone knows a person's name before - or after - they blow themselves up, taking people with them.

    Real ID is a method to control us more - not protect us more.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 1:40pm

    Most of you idiots don't know squat about security and I wouldn't trust you to be a night watchman in an outhouse. Most of these stupid rules that hamper security officials are forced upon them by idiots like you.

     

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    GBPackers, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 1:43pm

    We can beat the terrorists

    We can beat the terrorists if we stop being afraid. As a country we did exactly what they wanted us to do, be afraid.

    I'll bet Osama laughs his ass off about the shoe thing.

    When you can die at any moment, from any little thing, why would you live your life so afraid of something has an infinitesimal chance of causing you harm? You've got a better chance of hitting the Powerball than getting blown up by a terrorist.

     

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    Joe Schmoe, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 1:54pm

    > The more time spent being "correct", the less time and ability we have to learn and catch who we should be paying attention to

    Lest anyone think that I was eluding to racial profiling, shame on you.

    *Anyone* can be suspicious, but our current practices have removed common sense and judgement from the ideal. Heck, you can argue that they were never a part of it in the first place...

     

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    John, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 2:34pm

    Not about safety

    Keep in mind that many of these policies are not about making people safer, but are designed to make people feel safer. There's a huge difference.

    It's far easier to put a few heavily-armed marines in an airport to make people feel safer than it is to spend money on intelligence-gathering and surveillance. People see the marines in the airport and think something is "being done".

    These same people will think it's okay to give up our liberties because "if you're innocent, you've got nothing to hide". I'm sure the 80-year old grandmother and 3-year old child feel that way when they're patted down at the airport.

     

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    Rekrul, Jan 29th, 2008 @ 10:03pm

    How to stop airline hijackings with 100% certainty;

    First - Completely isolate the passenger compartment from the rest of the plane. No access to the cockpit, no access to the cargo hold, no access to any part of the plane's flight systems. The pilots would have their own bathroom, galley and access to the rest of the plane. Contact between the pilots and flight crew will be by electronic communication only. Second - Make it known that at the first sign of trouble in the passenger compartment, the pilots will completely shut down communications.

    If there's no access to the cockpit, a terrorist can't physically take over the plane and if they have no way to talk to the pilot, they can't use the threat of violence to force them to do their bidding.

    Of course this wouldn't stop terrorists from blowing up a plane, but it would cut the risk of hijackings to zero.

     

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    bshock, Jan 30th, 2008 @ 8:28am

    say it again: this isn't about improving security.

    This is all about controlling us.

    Government has been bought by the wealthy, and the wealthy consider us -- the other 99% -- as cattle. The better control you have over your cattle, the more profit you can squeeze out of them, and the more cheaply you can sacrifice them.

     

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    Surfer Joe, Apr 30th, 2008 @ 11:43am

    Ironically.....

    ... Something as simple as a locked door would have prevented the hijackings. Now we have cameras, strip searches, intimidation, lots of wasted time and money, and even a war...How come we still don't have any locked doors?

     

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