More Surveillance Can Make Us Less Safe

from the this-isn't-so-hard dept

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, we had a post detailing why greater surveillance wouldn't have helped prevent the attacks. The data was all there, it just wasn't put together. And yet, in the time since then, the government has, in fact, continually focused on gathering more surveillance (warrantless wiretaps, anyone?), rather than on making better use of the data that is there. Back in 2002, in another post, we discussed how collecting more surveillance data in data retention schemes also made it harder to find the useful data and harder to connect the dots on the data that you had.

With the attempted terror attack on Christmas, it appears that this focus on doing more surveillance rather than better security was a major part in "failing to connect the dots" that allowed the plot to get as far as it did. The EFF points us to a report noting that the reason why Abdulmutallab was allowed on an airplane into the US in the first place -- despite widespread warnings, was that there was a backlog in processing all the data:
Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be "clogged" -- overloaded -- with information having nothing to do with Terrorism. As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored.
At what point do people realize that collecting more data doesn't make us more secure, and actually can do the opposite. As is pointed out at the Salon link above, the idea that you even can sacrifice liberty for security is wrong. The famous saying may say that you "deserve neither," but increasingly people are realizing that sacrificing liberty doesn't necessarily get you more security anyway.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:12pm

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    - Benjamin Franklin (http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Benjamin_Franklin)

     

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  2.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:14pm

    Re:

    Amen!

     

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  3.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:27pm

    Good idea... let's send all the policemen back to the station, save all that money by not having cars on patrol. Let's get rid of those pesky boarder guards too, they just collect tons of useless information.

    Yup, America can become a bunch of angry curmudgeons with assault rifles all hiding in their houses, taking potshots at anyone who knocks on the door or walks by. Nobody will take a report, that's just useless data.

    Yup. Good plan. At least the security lines at the airport will be shorter, who needs to check people?

     

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  4.  
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    PaulT (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:34pm

    Re:

    Ah the usual bipolar claptrap... all or nothing, hmmm? No nuance, no moderation. Arguing about the flaws in a system just means we want to scrap everything, right?

     

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  5.  
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    The Atari-Mike, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:35pm

    "If you're losing $1 per sale, how do you expect to make a profit?"

    "We'll make it up in volume!"

     

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  6.  
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    senshikaze (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:40pm

    Re:

    seemed to have worked pre-socialist America.

     

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  7.  
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    RD, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:40pm

    TAM the SHTI

    "Good idea... let's send all the policemen back to the station, save all that money by not having cars on patrol. Let's get rid of those pesky boarder guards too, they just collect tons of useless information.

    Yup, America can become a bunch of angry curmudgeons with assault rifles all hiding in their houses, taking potshots at anyone who knocks on the door or walks by. Nobody will take a report, that's just useless data.

    Yup. Good plan. At least the security lines at the airport will be shorter, who needs to check people?"

    Fuck you, piece of shit ASSHOLE.

    I'm getting pretty sick of your automatic, knee-jerk, opposite-stance-no-matter-the-issue bullshit posts.

    No one, and certainly not Mike, is saying anything of the kind of garbage you are spewing. No one said "REMOVE ALL SECURITY" you fucking piece of shit. BETTER security, with MORE RELEVANT info, instead of just vastly INCREASING surveillance without regard for context vetting the info, is what is being suggested.

    Seems you think quantity over quality is the answer. You are a TRAITOR to the USA. Period.

    GFYITAYPOS

     

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  8.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:46pm

    Re:

    Igtor! That's amazing. The first nearly sensible thing you've ever said. Also, you forgot your /sarcasm tag.

     

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  9.  
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    sehlat (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:49pm

    There are only so many hours in a day

    And that's the ultimate limit to the effectiveness of security data mining, or any other alarm system. It's my understanding that the "safest, newest" reactor at Three Mile Island had so many "safety" systems that, when something went wrong, there were too many alarms going off for the operators to figure out which one was the critical alarm in time to do anything effective to prevent the meltdown.

    Same thing here. If you're gathering so much data that it takes longer to process the data and find the warning than the time before the attack begins, the system's useless.

     

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  10.  
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    Not So Sure, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 2:56pm

    Let me get this straight

    So if we had less data to process that would somehow make use safer, the fact that we couldn't process everything we had was somehow dangerous? While I agree we should find a way to look through every bit of information available it didn't make us less safe to fail to do so than not gathering it would have.

    Accept to the terminally paranoid.

     

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  11.  
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    ECA (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:01pm

    tHE PROBLEM STEMS FROM 1 main problem.

    WHO the extra security is on/watching.
    Is it on those that COME to this country? nope.

    In the last 20 years, many Basic liberties have disappeared.
    we used to be able to TAKE a person off our lands, we used to be able to KICK a person out of our homes..NOW we must ASK them to leave and then call the cops.
    You cant USE a paintball gun to TAG the idiot in the car BLARING his music at 1am.. you RUn out into the street(which is illegal) write his PLATE number down, then CALL the cops.
    WE cant BE IDIOTS and blow our hands off with FIREWORKS..
    MOST of you dont even know your neighbors by LOOKING AT THEM.
    You cant even throw a neighborhood party WITHOUT A LICENSE.

    NOW they are trying to take away your BASIC rights under the constitution AND the bible.

    I can see where a bit MORE security would be nice and helpful. but CONSIDER, what happened, and the TARGETS they were going for.
    ALL of it was aimed at the government..NOT the public.
    The World trade building, was used as the HIGHEST terrestrial location to receive BASIC EARTH based communications for a long time, by the GOV. AS well as confusion of "World trade Organization"(WTO) and "WORLD TRADE BUILDING".

    I wouldnt mind a small amount of protection in LARGE public places LIKE PARKS and such..its hard to cover those with cops.
    I dont need them at my HOME, or at your house.

    If we dont say anything, it will get so bad..that cops will be allowed to place WIRELESS, cellphone based CAMERAS to watch homes for ANYTHING they wish. Go out and place it on a telephone pole and NO one could tall the difference..

     

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  12.  
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    Big Broccoli, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:03pm

    Re: Let me get this straight

    You did not "get it straight" at all. The point is that there is a critical mass at which extra data is no longer helpful, and may in fact make a process more time consuming, more difficult and therefore less effective.

     

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  13.  
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    Richard (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:07pm

    Re:

    "Good idea... let's send all the policemen back to the station, save all that money by not having cars on patrol. Let's get rid of those pesky boarder guards too, they just collect tons of useless information.

    Yup, America can become a bunch of angry curmudgeons with assault rifles all hiding in their houses, taking potshots at anyone who knocks on the door or walks by. Nobody will take a report, that's just useless data.

    Yup. Good plan. At least the security lines at the airport will be shorter, who needs to check people?"


    Maybe if Mike posted fewer stories then you would have time to read them properly before responding?

     

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  14.  
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    The Anti Mike, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:14pm

    Mike is not a terrorist; therefore I am.

     

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  15.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:21pm

    Re: Re:

    See, now this I support :)

     

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  16.  
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    blah, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:22pm

    Socialism

    I hate people who claim America is a socialist country. Do they even know what it means? And what does socialism have to do with security? I think the term they were looking for was capitalism gone wrong. That's all that's happened over the last decade. Though, any monetary system can go wrong. :(

     

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  17.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:29pm

    Re: Socialism

    Serious.

    If people want to complain that Socialism is BAD, maybe they should think about what it really means. If you take away socialist programs that we ALREADY have and have had for a long time, people would go nuts.

    Imagine how pissed off these people crying socialism would be if they had to pay 25,000$ a year, per kid, to put them through K-12. Ignoring how many people would not, who could? The government pays an exorbitant amount to put kids through school, while some is from taxes and the lottery, they still make up a heafty portion.

    But the school system is Socialism is action!

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:32pm

    Re: Re:

    What does understanding a story have to do with taking the exact opposite stance on most, if not all of the stories posted?

     

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  19.  
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    Richard (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:45pm

    Probably worth looking at Bruce Schneier's take on this..

    It can be found here
    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/01/another_contest.html#comments

    and here

    http://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2010/01/airport_securit_12.html#comments

    To summarize

    what has worked

    Locked cockpit doors

    Passengers understanding that their best interest is to fight back (9/11 radically changed the perception of hijacking and consequently it has actually reduced since).

    Basic screening for obvious bombs - because this forces the terrorist to use something less effective - giving the passengers more opportunity to fight back.

    Good police work. The liquid bombers were caught before they got to the airport. The subsequent disruption caused by protecting ourselves from a plot that we had already foiled has allowed the terrorists to snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat.

    Finally we have to adopt the "blitz spirit" and carry on regardless. The people of London survived a bombing attack from 60000 well armed Germans backed by the whole resources of a major industrial nation. It makes our reaction to a handful of pathetic mostly failing wannabees look ridiculous.

    I remember that my mother said that she was once on a railway station and they bombed one of the platforms - so they just used a different platform!

     

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  20.  
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    Richard (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    What does understanding a story have to do with taking the exact opposite stance on most, if not all of the stories posted?

    Well he doesn't always succeed even in doing that properly!

     

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  21.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 4:10pm

    Re:

    "let's send all the policemen back to the station, save all that money by not having cars on patrol. Let's get rid of those pesky boarder guards too, they just collect tons of useless information."

    FINALLY, something intelligent comes out of your mouth.

     

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  22.  
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    Alan Gerow (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 4:14pm

    Re: Re: Socialism

    Yeah, and I don't support a government school system.

     

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  23.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 4:34pm

    Re: Let me get this straight

    "So if we had less data to process that would somehow make use safer, the fact that we couldn't process everything we had was somehow dangerous?"

    Yes. That's it exactly.

    Tell me you're not allowed to vote. Please.

     

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  24.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 5:13pm

    Re: Re:

    or the Civ 4 version: 'those who would give up a little liberty to gain a little security, deserve neither, and will loose both.'

     

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  25.  
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    Jack Boots, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 5:33pm

    Paperz Pleaze !

    It's becoming apparent that stopping terrorists is not the goal. It seems that the goal is removing your rights.

     

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  26.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 5:56pm

    Re: Paperz Pleaze !

    It's becoming apparent that stopping terrorists is not the goal. It seems that the goal is removing your rights.

    Isn't that excatly what the terrorists want?

     

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  27.  
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    Migzy, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 7:35pm

    Re: Re: Paperz Pleaze !

    BINGO! Every time we let one of our rights go out the window (and without even so much as a whimper from sheeple!), the terrorists win.

    A logic puzzle for everyone:
    - Terrorism by its very nature is to inspire fear in the people which the gov't is using to take away rights.
    - The gov't is inspiring even more fear in the people to take away even more rights.

    Therefore...

     

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  28.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:04pm

    Re: Re:

    I figured everyone would catch the sarcasm, apparently RD didn't.

    I haven't figured out how to get the Homer Simpson "I was being sarcastic" thing going.

     

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  29.  
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    RD, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:35pm

    Yep

    "I figured everyone would catch the sarcasm, apparently RD didn't.

    I haven't figured out how to get the Homer Simpson "I was being sarcastic" thing going."

    But you weren't. Or at least, you usually never are being sarcastic when you automatically take the opposite POV regardless of the merits. You cry wolf EVERY SINGLE TIME, and this is what you get. You made your bed, now lie in it.

     

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  30.  
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    bshock, Jan 8th, 2010 @ 8:36pm

    another pertinent schneier article

    http://www.schneier.com/essay-108.html

    The money quote:

    "Finding terrorism plots is not a problem that lends itself to data mining. It's a needle-in-a-haystack problem, and throwing more hay on the pile doesn't make that problem any easier."

     

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  31.  
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    slander (profile), Jan 8th, 2010 @ 9:09pm

    Re: Yep

    Funny, I didn't have any problem with it. But then, I tend to engage my brain when I read something...

     

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  32.  
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    DS, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 7:14am

    Re:

    That looks like a poem, but it doesn't read like one.

    Fail.

     

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  33.  
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    cc, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 7:53am

    Slightly off topic...

    Looking at the title I thought this was going to be about something completely different. I thought it was going to be about how surveillance sends pirates further underground -- behind encrypted VPNs.

    Too much encryption to track, so impossible to point out possible terrorists hiding behind it.

    More importantly, there is nothing stopping VPN PROVIDERS SNOOPING THROUGH USER DATA* (stuff is not encrypted at the VPN's side, and e.g. hotmail and gmail don't encrypt passwords and session info!). I bet they harvest millions of passwords this way.

    * Sorry about the all-caps, but there are so many people ignorant of that possibility, and I see no-one warning them either.

     

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  34.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 9th, 2010 @ 8:03am

    Re: Yep

    It isn't my fault that (a) you are debating the person and not the ideas, and (b) that you can't detect overwhelming sarcasm all by itself, and (c) that you seem to have forgotten about the "reply to this comment" link.

    But hey, watching you have a major flip out made my weekend. Thanks :)

     

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  35.  
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    NotATinfoilHatDude, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 8:09am

    I fail to understand the need for additional security when the existing procedures are not being followed. For example, it has been reported that the FruitOfTheLoomKaboom guy did not have to show his passport in order to board that plane. Had they done that, it is entirely possible that red flags would have been raised thus foiling the plot.

    I wonder if this was simply an attempt to discredit the present administration. How does one get through customs without a passport? With this sort of thing occurring, I doubt that additional security will do anything other than promote hidden objectives.

     

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  36.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 8:11am

    Re: Re: Yep

    lol
    bipolar claptrap ftw

     

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  37.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 9th, 2010 @ 9:37am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Uh, no A-M, we caught the sarcasm, we aren't idiots. It's just that you are using the sarcasm to attack this post as if it is claiming that we should just get rid of all surveillance and law enforcement - which is even more of a stretch than most of your interpretations of TechDirt posts.

     

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  38.  
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    Marcus Carab (profile), Jan 9th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    Re: Re: Re:

    (I think, by the way, it is YOU not quite picking up on Lobo's sarcasm in this instance)

     

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  39.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 9th, 2010 @ 12:31pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I thought it was pretty clear, I thought that Lobo's comment was semi-sarcastic but on point, especially seeing RD go off like an non-medicated escaped mental patient.

    My point in the end is this: I would rather that the system fails because it cannot process all of the information, rather than just throwing our collection hands up and covering our eyes. We don't need less information, we need more processing of information. The info was out there, just not a a good enough system to link the pieces together in a meaningful way quick enough to stop this.

    If you stop being interested in collecting some information, it is potentially that slippery slope to where you collect no information. Then we can all just hide indoors and shoot anyone that walks up to our house. Then we are "safe".

     

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  40.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 9th, 2010 @ 1:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Yep

    lol

    dismissive anonymous fool ftw.

     

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  41.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 1:55pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Yep

    hahaha
    too eze

     

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  42.  
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    Futile Expenditure of Effort, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 2:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    TAM -> "The info was out there, just not a a good enough system to link the pieces together in a meaningful way quick enough to stop this."

    Is that what you get from this debacle? ... How very simplistic.

    Heh - all they had to do was check the guys passport, but they didn't do that - why didn't they do that - isn't that part of standard procedure, even before the turn of the century.

    Certainly a check of the passport would've indicated that he was some one of interest. By all reports I've seen, the answer is yes.

    And of course, the Anti_Mike will tell you he is correct and we need more security because the existing security procedures were followed with such diligence that additional duties wont be a problem.

     

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  43.  
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    NotTheSharpDressedMan, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 7:25pm

    Re: Let me get this straight

    "I agree we should find a way to look through every bit of information available "

    - Does that include looking at a passport ?

    "it didn't make us less safe to fail to do so"

    - I disagree

     

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  44.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 9th, 2010 @ 11:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Yep

    Hint: You're anonymous too.

     

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  45.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 10th, 2010 @ 8:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Dude... you make an assumption that a third world country will do a first world security job. That is just a FAIL like you have never seen. In Amsterdam, his passport should have been checked as he came into the country. If they failed to do the basic thing of knowing how a passenger is, there is little anyone can do. There is no data.

    However, checking the passport might have come up with little, as he wasn't on a no-fly list, and had a valid US visa. He might have shown up as someone of interest when he came off the plane in Detroit, as their systems may have more access to information from US intelligence that might not appear around the world.

    Did you see what happened at Newark the other day? A security guard leaves their post, someone goes backwards through the exit to smootch his girlfriend, and the entire area is shut down and evacuated. Human failings in the system are what cause most problems, both the Newark and Detroit issues come down to human failings.

    the Anti_Mike will tell you he is correct and we need more security because the existing security procedures were followed with such diligence that additional duties wont be a problem.

    I didn't suggest more security, where the $%&^ did you get that from? I suggestion more data processing people. If the problem is too much data, then find a way to process the data. Stopping collecting data isn't really a solution, unless you think that it would be better just not to know who wants to kill you.

     

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  46.  
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    Bill Ross, Jan 10th, 2010 @ 10:32am

    This is Information WARFARE

    Surveillance is the flip side of Information suppression / subversion. Both are tools used to enslave us. Accurate information for our predators, bullshit for us.

    Surveillance provides information used to control us. Information subversion is used for Environmental Control 101, to trick us into CHOOSING our own slavery.

    Darwin warned us: Survival EQUALS ability to adapt to environment EQUALS ability to CHOOSE correctly EQUALS freedom:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/36

    THINK about it, choose correctly and survive:

    http://www.nazisociopaths.org/modules/article/view.article.php/c1/33

     

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  47.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2010 @ 11:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Yep

    But he has a name! And a profile! How can that be anonymous!?!

    Wait, his name is just the opposite of Mike. And his profile is just a collection of points that are the opposite of Mike's points.

    The Anti-Mike is still, for all practical purposes, anonymous.

     

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  48.  
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    Futile Expenditure of Effort, Jan 10th, 2010 @ 1:21pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Dude... you make an assumption that a third world country will do a first world security job."

    - The Netherlands is a third world country ? Since when ?

    "In Amsterdam, his passport should have been checked as he came into the country."

    - I thought a passport was required prior to boarding a plane destined for a different country. Interesting ... this is not necessarily the case. All you need is a well dressed man to convince the boarding agent.

    "Did you see what happened at Newark the other day?"

    - Apparently, they are not capable of handling their present tasks

    "I didn't suggest more security, where the $%&^ did you get that from?"

    - It is the topic being discussed - no ?

     

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  49.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 10th, 2010 @ 7:49pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    No, the third world country I referred to is where his trip started, in Africa. It is not clear that Amsterdam would have checked his passport, as he was an in-transit flier who may not have left the passenger side of the terminal.

    I know in the US that no matter what, you need to officially enter the US, even as a transit passenger. I am not sure that Amsterdam does the same thing. So his passport may not have been checked after his intial bordering in Africa. If they failed to do that check (or allowed a well dressed man to escort him past security), that would be where the security breakdown occurred.

    "Did you see what happened at Newark the other day?"

    - Apparently, they are not capable of handling their present tasks


    Actually, it is only given to show proof that even minor human error can make the system fail. All the technology in the world is still run by people.

    "I didn't suggest more security, where the $%&^ did you get that from?"

    - It is the topic being discussed - no ?


    No, it would appear that the main story is in fact the opposite, suggesting there should be less oversight, less data collection, and thus less effort on security.

     

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  50.  
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    The Anti-Mike (profile), Jan 10th, 2010 @ 7:52pm

    Re:

    There is more to this, and it's the reason why blaming a data backlog is just smoke and mirrors, it doesn't address the more simple failures.

    It appears he got on the plane without a valid passport, but with a valid US visa.

    Nobody twigged onto the concept of someone travelling from Africa to America on a one way ticket for an extended stay without any baggage.

    It is possible that in Amsterdam, authorities accepted the security check in Africa as acceptable, and didn't re-screen the guy as an in transit flyer.

    There is little data required here. Someone flying on a dud passport on a one way ticket without luggage should never have been on a plane without some serious questions being asked.

    Data has nothing to do with it.

     

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  51.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 10th, 2010 @ 8:53pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "in the time since then, the government has, in fact, continually focused on gathering more surveillance"

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  52.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 11th, 2010 @ 5:50am

    look ppl. it was to get the body screeing in place. its all a scam.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  53.  
    identicon
    Kent, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 1:24pm

    Re:

    The bible lol

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  54.  
    identicon
    Mojo, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 2:59pm

    Ummm, the reason this guy almost got away with it had nothing to do with a backlog of data... it had to do with a total lack of common sense on the part of the airport screeners.

    This guy bought a ONE WAY TICKET WITH CASH.

    That's supposed to automatically red-flag ANYONE as being suspicious, and I agree.

    At the very least this person was supposed to have been looked at more closely but wasn't.

    Because no one at the airport brought this to the attention of a supervisor, he was let through without being questioned.

    Idiots at the wheel. That's what it usually comes down to.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  55.  
    identicon
    Network security, Oct 10th, 2010 @ 2:08pm

    surveillance

    Surveillance cameras or devices does not gurantee you security. It totally depends on the action after surveillance information. If you act fast after detect security risk then there is combat otherwise you are still on great risk.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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