Talk of increased security measures, particularly in the paranoia following the September 11th attacks, always makes me nervous. It might be due to my libertarian leanings. More likely, it’s because I’ve read more than my fair share of dystopian science fiction. It turns out there are practical reasons not to like most of the measures being considered today. At best, they solve the wrong problem. At worst, they make us all less safe. Homeland Insecurity, an article in The Atlantic, outlines the ideas of Bruce Schneier, security wonk and author of Applied Cryptography. This long article is full of good stuff. Here is one nugget:
Consider the legislation introduced in May … that would mandate biometric data chips in driver’s licenses—a sweeping, nationwide data-collection program, in essence. Although Moran and Davis tied their proposal to the need for tighter security after last year’s attacks, they also contended that the nation could combat fraud by using smart licenses with bank, credit, and Social Security cards, and for voter registration and airport identification. Maybe so, Schneier says. “But think about screw-ups, because the system will screw up.” … the extra security supposedly provided by biometric ID cards will raise the economic incentive to counterfeit or steal them, with potentially disastrous consequences to the victims. “Okay, somebody steals your thumbprint,” Schneier says. “Because we’ve centralized all the functions, the thief can tap your credit, open your medical records, start your car, any number of things. Now what do you do? With a credit card, the bank can issue you a new card with a new number. But this is your thumb—you can’t get a new one.”
What does he suggest as an alternative to heavy-handed security policies? Read the article to find out. I identified enough with what he was saying to check out his Crypto-Gram Newsletter, his free monthly e-mail newsletter. The latest issue made a great case against arming airline pilots and against the proposed legislation that would let the recording industry hack your computer. I’ve added this newsletter my reading list.