Global Envelope

The DHS wants to share terrorist biometric information:

Robert Mocny, acting director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, outlined a proposal under which the United States would begin exchanging information about terrorists first with closely allied governments in Britain, Europe and Japan ,and then progressively extend the program to other countries as a means of foiling terrorist attacks.

The Global Envelope proposal apparently opened the door to the exchange of biometric information about persons in this country to other governments and vice versa, in an environment where even officials' pledges to observe privacy principles collide with inconsistent or absent legal protections.

In remarks to the International Conference on Biometrics and Ethics in Washington this afternoon, Mocny repeatedly stressed DHS' commitment to observing privacy principles during the design and implementation of its biometric systems. "We have a responsibility to use this information wisely and responsibly," he said.

Mocny cited the need to avoid duplication of effort by developing technical standards that all national biometric identification systems would use.

He emphasized repeatedly that information sharing is appropriate around the world on biometric methods of identifying terrorists who pose a risk to the public. Noting that his organization already receives information about terrorist threats from around the globe, Mocny said, "We have a responsibility to make a Global Security Envelope [that would coordinate information policies and technical standards.]"

Mocny conceded that each of the 10 privacy laws currently in effect in the United States has an exemption clause for national-security purposes. He added that the department only resorts to its essentially unlimited authority under those clauses when officials decide that there are compelling reasons to do so.

Anyone think that this will be any better than the no-fly list?

Posted on November 30, 2006 at 12:51 PM • 31 Comments

Comments

mr. b.November 30, 2006 1:14 PM

Given Mr. Schneier's past involvement with know terrorist branches of the USGov, I feel secure knowing everytime I visit his blog my status as a known associate of Mr. Schneier will bring my name to the attention of 'those who need to know'.

So, what are the "10 privacy laws currently in effect in the United States"?

BLPNovember 30, 2006 1:14 PM

I think the idea of a "global security envelope" is an interesting one. Isn't security usually based on exclusion?

badly informed boyNovember 30, 2006 1:21 PM

In the UK, we started with a DNA database for criminals, then for everyone who gets arrested. The government has said recently it would like to extend it to everyone.

Once an infrastructure is in place for sharing biometric information about terrorists, how long before it is extended to other criminals, and then to the rest of us, all in the name of reducing or solving crime?

Still, I guess if you've done nothing wrong, you've got nothing to worry about right?

Rick AuricchioNovember 30, 2006 1:23 PM

I'm relieved to hear that "...the department only resorts to its essentially unlimited authority...when officials decide that there are compelling reasons to do so."

Naturally, we can't tell you what those compelling reasons might be.

It's also reassuring to see that DHS intends to put even more data out into the wild. So, even if DHS were to maintain good data security within the US, they think it's OK to give the data to other countries whose security is unknown.

nzrussNovember 30, 2006 1:27 PM

Why not let everybody know the list just like the FBI 10 most wanted list and put it on the web.

AlexNovember 30, 2006 1:43 PM

Interestingly the general feeling in the EU is that data protection in the US is of a significant lower level than in the EU.
Nevertheless this seems again creating some false sense of security just like the recent fuss on 'liquid explosives'. Do they at DHS really think that terrorist will walk into that trap? Dodging the profile isn't that hard, see http://www.firstmonday.dk/issues/issue7_10/...

Andre LePlumeNovember 30, 2006 1:43 PM

It's funny. The EU, Canada, etc. talk big about privacy, and then things like the SWIFT monitoring, NSA activities in NZ, blind eyes turned on secret prisons in Europe, etc. undermine the commitment.

I would dearly love it if some of these nations, which are ahead of the US from a privacy protection standpoint legislatively, would simply tell the US government to stick it where the sun don't shine (and I am not referring to Gitmo). The analogy may be inapt to a degree, but you do not get anywhere bargaining with a bully, and after all we are talking about sovereign nations with a right to act independently. (Apologies in advance to quincunux for suggesting that nations have rights -- I am speaking somewhat loosely and the idea is clear).

RealistNovember 30, 2006 2:03 PM

Given that one man's / country's revolutionary is often another man's freedom fighter, this should prove to be most interesting....

...and we'll probably see more instances of the Arrar case...

McGavinNovember 30, 2006 2:09 PM

Let's do a word check on those paragraphs:

Biometrics
Information Sharing
Terrorism
National Security
privacy

Lots of good stuff in there; how could you NOT support this program?!? Biometrics will solve all our problems. So will Information Sharing.

Stephan SamuelNovember 30, 2006 2:17 PM

It seems like a good idea, but it would have to be highly regulated with no exceptions. I think a good condition for inclusion in the program would be if one of the countries which is part of the consortium fairly convicts you of a crime for which the penalty is death, after all appeals are exhausted.

I could see the government taking the ball and running with this and using it to keep anyone's biometric data at will.

Rick AuricchioNovember 30, 2006 2:33 PM

I suppose I was hasty in characterizing non-US countries as possibly having poor data security.

I was thinking of perhaps Russia and the former Soviet Republics, which seem to have less formal controls.

bobNovember 30, 2006 2:58 PM

'Mocny conceded that each of the 10 privacy laws currently in effect in the United States has an exemption clause for national-security purposes. ' An exemption for the government??? Thats who I want controlled THE MOST!

Davi OttenheimerNovember 30, 2006 3:14 PM

Well, the potential issues are as bad if not worse...

Data integrity has been a huge pain in the no-fly list (e.g. how to distinguish two people with the same name) but will be an even bigger problem with biometric data sharing since it is harder to tell fingerprints, retinas, etc. apart without everyone present....

I can only imagine the consequences if countries pollute the data during transfer, or fail to secure it while stored, let alone rely on the source of data as trusted.

Here is a report on some basic biometric data issues noted in the wild. My favorite is the "blow on the sensor for it to read the last set of prints" trick:

http://www.heise.de/ct/english/02/11/114/

Lamont PetersonNovember 30, 2006 3:26 PM

This could be a little better than the no-fly list as, in theory, it should be easier to tell the difference between a 4-year old and a terrorist with the same name.

Then again, by the time TSA and other contries' airport screening agencies get the data, they could have found a way to screw up its use.

ziggy stardustNovember 30, 2006 3:39 PM

Personally I would like to see lists like this one and the no-fly list made public and the responsibility for the accuracy assigned to a specific agency. If the names and data on the list belong to actual terrorists who are plotting death and destruction, then I don't believe they have any right to privacy. If they are not terrorist and the name is a mistake there should be due process to have the name or data removed. Would the government not be better served having a smaller more accurate list instead of having to sift through massive lists filled with erroneous data?

The one problem is that innocent people will have their data exposed, but if an organization is held accountable for these mistakes there will be fewer of them. Right now there is no consequence for putting a name on the no fly list even if it is the name of someone completely innocent.

Add accountability and transparency and you will have accurate lists that might actually be of some use.

Not From These PartsNovember 30, 2006 4:36 PM

"Anyone think that this will be any better than the no-fly list?"

My first thoughts are that it will be different in nature to the no-fly list. Assuming that passports with embedded biometric data become common, it should become very difficult to fly to or from the US, and many other countries, without supplying biometric data that is much more specific than a name on a list. That seems like progress to me.

Of course, there are likely to be new problems as well. Surely, future terrorists will get a bit fed up being picked up at the airport and start looking for other ways to cross borders? I do not know how secure the US/Canada border is but have always assumed that there must be lots of ways to sneak through (Comments anyone?).

Also, judging by the quality of the data and the lack of redress for innocent travellers whose name appears on the no-fly list, I suspect that lots of incorrect data will be shared which reduces the usefulness of the data sharing system and could cause real problems for innocent travellers.

There seems to be an obsession with automating security checking systems for airports without proper consideration of all the different types of security we could employ e.g. Isreali-style profiling and baggage handler employee vetting.

Not From These PartsNovember 30, 2006 4:36 PM

"Anyone think that this will be any better than the no-fly list?"

My first thoughts are that it will be different in nature to the no-fly list. Assuming that passports with embedded biometric data become common, it should become very difficult to fly to or from the US, and many other countries, without supplying biometric data that is much more specific than a name on a list. That seems like progress to me.

Of course, there are likely to be new problems as well. Surely, future terrorists will get a bit fed up being picked up at the airport and start looking for other ways to cross borders? I do not know how secure the US/Canada border is but have always assumed that there must be lots of ways to sneak through (Comments anyone?).

Also, judging by the quality of the data and the lack of redress for innocent travellers whose name appears on the no-fly list, I suspect that lots of incorrect data will be shared which reduces the usefulness of the data sharing system and could cause real problems for innocent travellers.

There seems to be an obsession with automating security checking systems for airports without proper consideration of all the different types of security we could employ e.g. Isreali-style profiling and baggage handler employee vetting.

Brent DaxNovember 30, 2006 6:53 PM

Um, isn't this just like the "blurry picture taken at twilight with a telephoto lens and no tripod five years ago when the guy had a beard" face-recognition problem, only multiplied by a hundred? Where do they expect to get biometric data on suspected terrorists?

RalphNovember 30, 2006 8:43 PM

What a waste of time.

This kind of rubbish only occurs when people are spending someone elses money.

These idiots couldn't secure their own car.

quincunxNovember 30, 2006 9:22 PM

'Mocny cited the need to avoid duplication of effort by developing technical standards that all national biometric identification systems would use.'

The 'duplication is wasteful' argument is the all encompassing government and crony capitalist rationale that has been used ever since the progressive era to justify central planning and monopoly creation. (Remove biometric and substitute any industry: telephone, electricity, gas, subways, waste disposal, etc.)

The end result is always the same: poor unchanging technological standards, high prices, and bad service.

Not to mention the bad security that arises from monoculture.

It also makes gov corruption a profitable opportunity.

'(Apologies in advance to quincunux for suggesting that nations have rights -- I am speaking somewhat loosely and the idea is clear).'

Thanks. I do agree that since 'national sovereignty' exists, one should use it to restrict international political integration.

ElliottDecember 1, 2006 4:08 AM

@NotFromTheseParts:

"...it should become very difficult to fly to or from the US, and many other countries, without supplying biometric data ... That seems like progress to me."

That seems like my nightmares to me.

I am anticipating since years that the governments will steal and effectively publish as much of our intimate data as technology permits. Sadly, I was right, and this "progresses" even faster than I thought.

Especially the USA are the most dangerous threat to our personal privacy, safety and security, probably because their politicians are the most corrupt, their corporations the most greedy, and their citizens the dumbest in the world.

Also, they are especially oppressive against individuals and other nations, and kittenish and irresponsible with new technology (shoot first, ask or think later when child is already dead).

Hence it is most advisable to stay away from those morons, or else they might ruin your life. Unfortunately their aggressive oppressiveness against other nations leaves few room to stay away.

ElliottDecember 1, 2006 4:09 AM

"...each of the 10 privacy laws currently in effect in the United States..."

Oh, so they pretend to have some? I'm impressed.

AnonymousDecember 1, 2006 4:28 AM

"Those who can do;
those who can't work for the government"

It got corrupted because the teachers most people are familiar with are government employees.

Then they screw things up for "those who can" because they resent and hate competent people.

Jonathan ThornburgDecember 1, 2006 5:30 AM

Stephan Samuel suggested that "a good condition for inclusion in the program would be if one of the countries which is part of the consortium fairly convicts you of a crime for which the penalty is death, after all appeals are exhausted."

Hmm, most of the proposed countries outlawed the death penalty a long time ago. So this would mean in practice that only the US could put people on the list.

A related point... Who decides if a given conviction is "fair"? What if, eg, country A
tries a citizen of country B, and country A
says the trial was fair, and country B says it wasn't?

This seems like a recipe for everything the current US no-fly lists are, and worse. :(

bobDecember 1, 2006 7:17 AM

Hopefully this will be implemented with typical government efficiency and still be in the drawing-board stage when Star-Trek style transporters have replaced air transport. I applied for some VA benefits once (for non-USers the VA is a monolithic government agency in the US charged with seeing that as few people as possible survive long enough after their military service to draw benefits) and they told me approval would take ten working days. It took eleven months. Yup, that sounds about right, one working day per month.

FPDecember 1, 2006 9:51 AM

How do you obtain biometric information about a terrorist? In most cases, you can't, because it requires a physical presence. If you can acquire biometric information from a terrorist, you might as well arrest him or her on the spot.

Instead, my concern is that the database will be used for people who are "presumed terrorists."

As Mr. Schneier has repeatedly pointed out, the no-fly list is based on the assumption that certain people are too dangerous be allowed on an aircraft, but harmless enough that they can't be arrested. Otherwise, a federal watch list, with no need for secrecy, would suffice. If someone on that list shows up at an airport, just arrest them.

Likewise, by design, this database will almost certainly be used for secret profiling about people that can't be proven guilty to a jury but are for dubious reasons presumed dangerous.

erasmusDecember 1, 2006 10:54 AM

Stephan Samuel suggested that "a good condition for inclusion in the program would be if one of the countries which is part of the consortium fairly convicts you of a crime for which the penalty is death, after all appeals are exhausted."

That's an interesting irony: is the UK the only place that refuses to extradite people to countries where they could face the death penalty?

Stephan SamuelDecember 1, 2006 11:37 AM

@erasmus and Jonathan Thornburg,

The death penalty suggestion was just an idea, symbolic for recognition that a person has committed a crime requiring the ultimate punishment. That concept, unlike the concrete example of the death penalty, is reasonably uniform in any country that's on the list.

As for the definition of a "fair" trial, that's a matter for experts on international law. If gets caught for committing a crime in a country, they can expect to stand trial in that country, or be expedited as has been established historically. The accused's ethics may not coincide with the local ethics (did those convicted in the 9/11 attacks have a fair Islamic trial?), but that's the trouble with being in someone else's country. There are standards for what a fair trial is and changing those to make them more "fair," if that's required, is not related to this.

Not From These PartsDecember 1, 2006 1:31 PM

@Elliott

"... seems like my nightmares to me."

I am not happy about the current security trends either. My proposed answer to Bruce's question is (grudgingly) based upon resignation to ever greater intrusion into our personal lives. It's happening; we have to live with it as best we can. On the balance, I think that an effective bioemtric ID scheme will provide better border control than the flawed list of no-fly names.

I did not mean to imply that I like mass surveillance and the loss of privacy inherent that seems to get worse almost every day in my country.

"... it is most advisable to stay away from those morons ..."

Oh, I wish I could.

@FP

"How do you obtain biometric information about a terrorist?"

I suggest that in practice, lots of people travel internationally before engaging in terrorism or their terrorist intentions being detected. In my country, you cannot get a passport without submitting a load of personal bioemtric data although there are lots of older style passports still in issue and some other country's passport issuing systems are not secure.

In time,as this technology becomes more pervasive and harder to avoid, there will be a good chance of having bioemtric data for any deemed to be 'of interest' to the authorities. Bioemtric ID systems depend upon mass collection of personal data.

Davi OttenheimerDecember 3, 2006 5:57 PM

"What if, eg, country A tries a citizen of country B, and country A says the trial was fair, and country B says it wasn't?"

One of the major factors leading to the confusion in intelligence just before 9/11 was the difference between French and American treatment of Chechnya.

Note the French Aug 22, 2001 warning on Zacarias Moussaoui:

http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline.jsp?...

"He had been on a French watch list for several years, preventing him from entering France. [...] A senior French investigator later says, 'Even a neophyte working in some remote corner of Florida, would have understood the threat based on what was sent.'"

We need more data? Seems like we need better governance, let alone awareness/analytic understanding, for the data already available.

Intrusion detection is pointless if you do not have someone who can understand the packet reports, and downright dangerous to your own welfare if you hand out the reports to the wrong people.

The fact that there is no universal definition of terrorist is compounded by complicated political objectives of leaders in countries each fighting against a unique definition of terror. Watch as Georgia fights more with Russia, Russia demands that the US detain Georgian terrorists, while the US sends Georgia arms and embraces them as allies in the war against terror...not to mention Turkey as an ally against the Kurdish terrorists, although the Kurdish terrorists might be an ally against the Iraqi terrorists...ah, but at least we'll have biometrics, which may or may not be trustworthy.

VasuDecember 4, 2006 12:25 PM

@Bruce
"Anyone think that this will be any better than the no-fly list?"
Nope it will just be much worse. Now if I get on the no-fly list, I have the hope of moving back to motherland to escape the stupidity. I'll just have to go with "move back to motherland and take crap there because of some screwup here"


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