Sunday, March 28, 2004

Wired missing the point?

Wired runs an article about plans in the US to issue trusted travelers a card granting them the possibility to skip time-consuming checks at the airport. The card seems to assure we're not dealing with a terrorist planning to crash into the Whitehouse here.
By the way, it seems the US government seems to think someone buying a one-way ticket is more likely to be a plane hijacker. Which raises the interesting question: why in the world would a professional terrorist buy a one-way ticket in preparing himself for paradise? Certainly after reading the Wired article containing this sensitive piece of governmental information he will think twice about doing so (pun intended). Why save a couple of bucks after all those years of living as a mole in complete anonymity, taking care of not being given even getting fined for speeding, and then doing something as obviously stupid as that?
Well, back to the point: the government wants to reduce chances of terrorist attack taking place. Doing everything to prevent terrorists from acting out their evil deeds is a very good thing, don't get me wrong. But we should hope that the measures that are being taken do really help something in the process. For example, what we really wouldn't want is the introduction of a card for the rich and influential to be treated quicker than us mortals; under the coverage of restraining terrorists in their footsteps. Let's take a look at what Bruce Schneier, a well-known and respected voice on these kind of matters, has to say about all this. In a lengthy contribution to his latest monthly Crypto-Gram newsletter (which seems to be read by 100,000+ readers), he writes about some entrepreneur trying to have his invention V-ID system introduces. I don't know if Wired and Schneier are talking about the same system here, but he idea of the cards is the same:
"for people who are not on a set of government watch lists to be able to subscribe to the service (or for organizations to buy it for their employees, customers, etc.), and then get faster treatment at security checkpoints around the country"
(quote from crypto-gram).
The card is a voluntary national ID card, for every American without a criminal record to acquire. Schneider’s idea is that somewhere in the system computers make decisions about card-issuing. Attackers will probe the system for vulnerabilities. And while it won’t be easy for ordinary people, and maybe even for ordinary CS graduates, we really can’t be sure it will be safe from a "dedicated and well-funded adversary" (quote). Would it be possible for terrorists to acquire such card, the whole idea behind it is thwarted; it will even obviously lowers security, as now potentially dangerous people are declared trustworthy by the government itself.
Let me know if you don’t agree, think these kind of cards are in fact a very good idea; I would be glad to alter my opinion seeing some reasonable arguments here. It's just that I'm quite concerned with the way governments (also mine, the Dutch) are using the threat of terror as an excuse to introduce new laws certainly having the side effect of diminishing our freedom of movement and privacy. It seems all kinds of measures are taken without further thinking; only when it's too late do we see what has been taken from us.