Essays in the Category "Airline Travel"

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Airport Pasta-Sauce Interdiction Considered Harmful

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • September 18, 2008

Airport security found a jar of pasta sauce in my luggage last month. It was a 6-ounce jar, above the limit; the official confiscated it, because allowing it on the airplane with me would have been too dangerous. And to demonstrate how dangerous he really thought that jar was, he blithely tossed it in a nearby bin of similar liquid bottles and sent me on my way.

There are two classes of contraband at airport security checkpoints: the class that will get you in trouble if you try to bring it on an airplane, and the class that will cheerily be taken away from you if you try to bring it on an airplane. This difference is important: Making security screeners confiscate anything from that second class is a waste of time. All it does is harm innocents; it doesn’t stop terrorists at all…

A Fetishistic Approach to Security Is a Perverse Way to Keep Us Safe

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Guardian
  • September 4, 2008

We spend far more effort defending our countries against specific movie-plot threats, rather than the real, broad threats. In the US during the months after the 9/11 attacks, we feared terrorists with scuba gear, terrorists with crop dusters and terrorists contaminating our milk supply. Both the UK and the US fear terrorists with small bottles of liquid. Our imaginations run wild with vivid specific threats. Before long, we’re envisioning an entire movie plot, without Bruce Willis saving the day. And we’re scared.

It’s not just terrorism; it’s any rare risk in the news. The big fear in Canada right now, following a particularly gruesome incident, is random decapitations on intercity buses. In the US, fears of school shootings are much greater than the actual risks. In the UK, it’s child predators. And people all over the world mistakenly fear flying more than driving. But the very definition of news is something that hardly ever happens. If an incident is in the news, we shouldn’t worry about it. It’s when something is so common that its no longer news – car crashes, domestic violence – that we should worry. But that’s not the way people think…

The TSA's Useless Photo ID Rules

No-fly lists and photo IDs are supposed to help protect the flying public from terrorists. Except that they don't work.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Los Angeles Times
  • August 28, 2008

The TSA is tightening its photo ID rules at airport security. Previously, people with expired IDs or who claimed to have lost their IDs were subjected to secondary screening. Then the Transportation Security Administration realized that meant someone on the government’s no-fly list — the list that is supposed to keep our planes safe from terrorists — could just fly with no ID.

Now, people without ID must also answer personal questions from their credit history to ascertain their identity. The TSA will keep records of who those ID-less people are, too, in case they’re trying to probe the system…

Life in the Fast Lane

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The New York Times
  • January 21, 2007

CLEAR, a private service that prescreens travelers for a $100 annual fee, has come to Kennedy International Airport. To benefit from the Clear Registered Traveler program, which is run by Verified Identity Pass, a person must fill out an application, let the service capture his fingerprints and iris pattern and present two forms of identification. If the traveler passes a federal background check, he will be given a card that allows him to pass quickly through airport security.

Sounds great, but it’s actually two ideas rolled into one: one clever and one very stupid…

The Boarding Pass Brouhaha

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • November 2, 2006

Last week Christopher Soghoian created a Fake Boarding Pass Generator website, allowing anyone to create a fake Northwest Airlines boarding pass: any name, airport, date, flight.

This action got him visited by the FBI, who later came back, smashed open his front door, and seized his computers and other belongings. It resulted in calls for his arrest — the most visible by Rep. Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts) — who has since recanted. And it’s gotten him more publicity than he ever dreamed of.

All for demonstrating a known and obvious vulnerability in airport security involving boarding passes and IDs…

Why Everyone Must Be Screened

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • October 5, 2006

Why should we waste time at airport security, screening people with U.S. government security clearances? This perfectly reasonable question was asked recently by Robert Poole, director of transportation studies at The Reason Foundation, as he and I were interviewed by WOSU Radio in Ohio.

Poole argued that people with government security clearances, people who are entrusted with U.S. national security secrets, are trusted enough to be allowed through airport security with only a cursory screening. They’ve already gone through background checks, he said, and it would be more efficient to concentrate screening resources on everyone else…

Let Computers Screen Air Baggage

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • March 23, 2006

It seems like every time someone tests airport security, airport security fails. In tests between November 2001 and February 2002, screeners missed 70 percent of knives, 30 percent of guns and 60 percent of (fake) bombs. And recently, testers were able to smuggle bomb-making parts through airport security in 21 of 21 attempts. It makes you wonder why we’re all putting our laptops in a separate bin and taking off our shoes. (Although we should all be glad that Richard Reid wasn’t the “underwear bomber.”)

The failure to detect bomb-making parts is easier to understand. Break up something into small enough parts, and it’s going to slip past the screeners pretty easily. The explosive material won’t show up on the metal detector, and the associated electronics can look benign when disassembled. This isn’t even a new problem. It’s widely believed that the Chechen women who blew up the two Russian planes in August 2004 probably smuggled their bombs aboard the planes in pieces…

Airline Security a Waste of Cash

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Wired
  • December 1, 2005

Since 9/11, our nation has been obsessed with air-travel security. Terrorist attacks from the air have been the threat that looms largest in Americans’ minds. As a result, we’ve wasted millions on misguided programs to separate the regular travelers from the suspected terrorists — money that could have been spent to actually make us safer.

Consider CAPPS and its replacement, Secure Flight. These are programs to check travelers against the 30,000 to 40,000 names on the government’s No-Fly list, and another 30,000 to 40,000 on its Selectee list…

Airplane Security and Metal Knives

  • Bruce Schneier
  • The Sydney Morning Herald
  • November 30, 2005

This essay also appeared in The Age.

Two weeks ago, Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone caused a stir by ridiculing airplane security in a public speech. She derided much of post-9/11 airline security, especially the use of plastic knives instead of metal ones, and said “a lot of what we do is to make people feel better as opposed to actually achieve an outcome.”

As a foreigner, I know very little about Australian politics. I don’t know anything about Senator Vanstone, her politics, her policies, or her party. I have no idea what she stands for. But as a security technologist, I agree 100% with her comments. Most airplane security is what I call “security theater”: ineffective measures designed to make people feel better about flying…

U.S. 'No-Fly' List Curtails Liberties

Intended as a counterterrorism tool, it doesn't work and tramples on travelers' rights

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Newsday
  • August 25, 2004

Imagine a list of suspected terrorists so dangerous that we can’t ever let them fly, yet so innocent that we can’t arrest them – even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act.

This is the federal government’s “no-fly” list. First circulated in the weeks after 9/11 as a counterterrorism tool, its details are shrouded in secrecy.

But, because the list is filled with inaccuracies and ambiguities, thousands of innocent, law-abiding Americans have been subjected to lengthy interrogations and invasive searches every time they fly, and sometimes forbidden to board airplanes…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.