Essays Tagged "Minneapolis Star Tribune"

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Bruce Schneier: Security at What Cost?

National ID System Is Not Worth The $23 Billion Price Tag

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • February 23, 2008

The argument was so obvious it hardly needed repeating: We would all be safer if we had a better ID card. A good, hard-to-forge national ID is a no-brainer (or so the argument goes), and it’s ridiculous that a modern country such as the United States doesn’t have one. One result of this line of thinking is the planned Real ID Act, which forces all states to conform to common and more stringent rules for issuing driver’s licenses.

But security is always a tradeoff; it must be balanced with the cost. We all do this intuitively. Few of us walk around wearing bulletproof vests. It’s not because they’re ineffective, it’s because for most of us, the tradeoff isn’t worth it. It’s not worth the cost, the inconvenience, or the loss of fashion sense…

Bruce Schneier: Privatizing the Police Puts Us at Greater Risk

Abuses of power and brutality are likelier among private security guards

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • February 27, 2007

In Raleigh, N.C., employees of Capitol Special Police patrol apartment buildings, a bowling alley and nightclubs, stopping suspicious people, searching their cars and making arrests.

Sounds like a good thing, but Capitol Special Police isn’t a police force at all—it’s a for-profit security company hired by private property owners.

This isn’t unique. Private security guards outnumber real police more than 5-1, and increasingly act like them.

They wear uniforms, carry weapons and drive lighted patrol cars on private properties like banks and apartment complexes and in public areas like bus stations and national monuments. Sometimes they operate as ordinary citizens and can only make citizen’s arrests, but in more and more states they’re being granted official police powers…

Bruce Schneier: Focus on terrorists, not tactics

It's easy to defend against what they planned last time, but it's shortsighted.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • August 13, 2006

Hours-long waits in the security line. Ridiculous prohibitions on what you can carry onboard. Last week’s foiling of a major terrorist plot and the subsequent airport security graphically illustrates the difference between effective security and security theater.

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11—no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews—had anything to do with last week’s arrests. And they wouldn’t have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn’t have made a difference, either…

We're Giving Up Privacy and Getting Little in Return

Better to Put People, Not Computers, in Charge of Investigating Potential Plots

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • May 31, 2006

Collecting information about every American’s phone calls is an example of data mining. The basic idea is to collect as much information as possible on everyone, sift through it with massive computers, and uncover terrorist plots. It’s a compelling idea, and convinces many. But it’s wrong. We’re not going to find terrorist plots through systems like this, and we’re going to waste valuable resources chasing down false alarms. To understand why, we have to look at the economics of the system.

Data mining works best when you’re searching for a well-defined profile, a reasonable number of attacks per year, and a low cost of false alarms. Credit-card fraud is one of data mining’s success stories: All credit-card companies mine their transaction databases for data for spending patterns that indicate a stolen card…

Your Vanishing Privacy

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • March 5, 2006

Over the past 20 years, there’s been a sea change in the battle for personal privacy.

The pervasiveness of computers has resulted in the almost constant surveillance of everyone, with profound implications for our society and our freedoms. Corporations and the police are both using this new trove of surveillance data. We as a society need to understand the technological trends and discuss their implications. If we ignore the problem and leave it to the “market,” we’ll all find that we have almost no privacy left.

Most people think of surveillance in terms of police procedure: Follow that car, watch that person, listen in on his phone conversations. This kind of surveillance still occurs. But today’s surveillance is more like the NSA’s model, recently turned against Americans: Eavesdrop on every phone call, listening for certain keywords. It’s still surveillance, but it’s wholesale surveillance…

Unchecked Presidential Power

In the weeks after 9/11, while America and the world were grieving, President Bush built a legal rationale for a dictatorship. Then he started using it to avoid the law.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • December 20, 2005

This past Thursday, the New York Times exposed the most significant violation of federal surveillance law in the post-Watergate era. President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to engage in domestic spying, wiretapping thousands of Americans and bypassing the legal procedures regulating this activity.

This isn’t about the spying, although that’s a major issue in itself. This is about the Fourth Amendment protections against illegal search. This is about circumventing a teeny tiny check by the judicial branch, placed there by the legislative branch, placed there 27 years ago—on the last occasion that the executive branch abused its power so broadly…

The Erosion of Freedom

Spying tools are now routinely used against ordinary, law-abiding Americans who have no connection to terrorism.

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • November 21, 2005

Christmas 2003, Las Vegas. Intelligence hinted at a terrorist attack on New Year’s Eve. In the absence of any real evidence, the FBI tried to compile a real-time database of everyone who was visiting the city. It collected customer data from airlines, hotels, casinos, rental car companies, even storage locker rental companies. All this information went into a massive database—probably close to a million people overall—that the FBI’s computers analyzed, looking for links to known terrorists. Of course, no terrorist attack occurred and no plot was discovered: The intelligence was wrong…

Toward a Truly Safer Nation

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • September 11, 2005

Leaving aside the political posturing and the finger-pointing, how did our nation mishandle Katrina so badly? After spending tens of billions of dollars on homeland security (hundreds of billions, if you include the war in Iraq) in the four years after 9/11, what did we do wrong? Why were there so many failures at the local, state and federal levels?

These are reasonable questions. Katrina was a natural disaster and not a terrorist attack, but that only matters before the event. Large-scale terrorist attacks and natural disasters differ in cause, but they’re very similar in aftermath. And one can easily imagine a Katrina-like aftermath to a terrorist attack, especially one involving nuclear, biological or chemical weapons…

How Long Can the Country Stay Scared?

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • August 27, 2004

Want to learn how to create and sustain psychosis on a national scale? Look carefully at the public statements made by the Department of Homeland Security.

Here are a few random examples: “Weapons of mass destruction, including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents or materials, cannot be discounted.” “At least one of these attacks could be executed by the end of the summer 2003.” “These credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.”

The DHS’s threat warnings have been vague, indeterminate, and unspecific. The threat index goes from yellow to orange and back again, although no one is entirely sure what either level means. We’ve been warned that the terrorists might use helicopters, scuba gear, even cheap prescription drugs from Canada. New York and Washington, D.C., were put on high alert one day, and the next day told that the alert was based on information years old. The careful wording of these alerts allows them not to require any sound, confirmed, accurate intelligence information, while at the same time guaranteeing hysterical media coverage. This headline-grabbing stuff might make for good movie plots, but it doesn’t make us safer…

Unchecked Police And Military Power Is A Security Threat

  • Bruce Schneier
  • Minneapolis Star Tribune
  • June 24, 2004

As the U.S. Supreme Court decides three legal challenges to the Bush administration’s legal maneuverings against terrorism, it is important to keep in mind how critical these cases are to our nation’s security. Security is multifaceted; there are many threats from many different directions. It includes the security of people against terrorism, and also the security of people against tyrannical government.

The three challenges are all similar, but vary slightly. In one case, the families of 12 Kuwaiti and two Australian men imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay argue that their detention is an illegal one under U.S. law. In the other two cases, lawyers argue whether U.S. citizens—one captured in the United States and the other in Afghanistan—can be detained indefinitely without charge, trial or access to an attorney…

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.