Claude (Anthropic’s LLM) was given this prompt: Please summarize the themes and arguments of Bruce Schneier’s book Beyond Fear. I’m particularly interested in a taxonomy of his ethical arguments—please expand on that. Then lay out the most salient criticisms of the book.
Here’s a brief summary of the key themes and arguments made in security expert Bruce Schneier’s book Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World:
- Effective security requires realistic risk assessment, not fear-driven responses. We need to rationally determine actual threats versus perceived ones.
- Security trade-offs need to be carefully balanced against costs to other values like privacy, freedom, and social/economic impacts.
- Human psychology and biases lead to exaggerated fears that politicians/marketers can exploit, resulting in wasteful and theatrical “security theater.”
- Security is a process that requires ongoing flexibility, not total prevention. We can’t anticipate every threat but can build resilience.
Analyze risks empirically using evidence, statistics, and probability rather than intuition. Avoid underestimating everyday risks while overestimating novel or sensational ones.
- Reject the temptation to implement oppressive security restrictions after tragic but unlikely events. Focus only on proportional responses.
- Where possible, favor openness and transparency over aggressive data collection or restrictions which erode civil liberties.
- Seek security policies and technologies that enhance society broadly rather than benefit special interests.
Schneier argues for rational, ethical approaches to security aimed at genuine protection while avoiding violations of human rights in the name of safety.
Here are some of the key ethical arguments Bruce Schneier makes in Beyond Fear regarding security policy and practices:
- Utilitarian Ethics – Security measures should aim to provide the greatest societal benefit and well-being for the most people, not just special interests.
- Individual Autonomy – Restrictions should be minimized to avoid excessive infringements on civil liberties and individual freedoms. Surveillance creep risks violating autonomy.
- Privacy Rights – Pervasive monitoring and data collection erode privacy rights and dignity. Citizens are entitled to some degree of opacity.
- Proportional Responses – Reactive policies should weigh costs versus statistically likely benefits. Draconian rules beyond proportionality are unethical.
- Justice and Fairness – Security should not create racial, religious or other profiling biases that punish groups rather than conduct.
- Accountability and Transparency – Ethical security requires checks against excessive power and oversight for responsibility. Secrecy enables abuses.
- Honest Representation – Officials and pundits have an ethical duty not to stoke disproportionate public fears. Security theater manufactures consent.
- Integrity and Character – Leaders should have the wisdom and courage to make difficult trade-offs rather than exploit fears for authority and control.
Overall Schneier argues security policies grounded in ethics rather than fear promote human well-being while recognizing inherent trade-offs. Prudence, transparency, and proportionality are essential.
Here are some of the most salient criticisms made against the arguments put forth in Bruce Schneier’s book Beyond Fear:
- Downplays real threats – Some argue Schneier dangerously downplays serious risks like terrorism and cybercrime by calling fears overblown.
- Too theoretical – His risk analysis approach may rely too much on statistics versus real-world uncertainties that defy probabilistic reasoning.
- No easy answers – While citing misguided policies, critics say Schneier provides few actionable solutions or concrete policy guidance.
- Conflicting values – His balancing of security, privacy and liberty involves inherent trade-offs and tough choices he gives little direction on.
- Politically naive – Suggesting special interests drive policy may under-appreciate legitimate national security concerns of elected officials.
- Hindsight bias – Assessing past overreactions easier than predicting future threats that justify caution today.
- No accounting for psychology – Factoring human irrationality into policy is essential, not dismissed as “security theater.”
- Technical focus – Focuses narrowly on certain technologies while ignoring broader organizational and sociological dimensions.
In summary, critics argue Schneier’s risk analysis orientation is too clinical, abstract, and devoid of political and human realities to transform concrete policy in the ways he intends. His framework may therefore lack sufficient nuance or guidance.
It’s interesting. The summary is pretty accurate, and so are the criticisms. The book was a product of my thinking twenty years ago, and my own thinking has evolved to address those criticisms.
Of course, this only works with older books that the LLM has ingested, and probably works better with books that have been written about.
Posted on September 15, 2023 at 3:12 PM •
I have 80 copies of my 2000 book Beyond Fear available at the very cheap price of $5 plus shipping. Note that there is a 20% chance that your book will have a “BT Counterpane” sticker on the front cover.
Order your signed copy here.
Posted on May 12, 2021 at 7:48 AM •
In Beyond Fear I wrote about trained officials recognizing “hinky” and how it differs from profiling:
Ressam had to clear customs before boarding the ferry. He had fake ID, in the name of Benni Antoine Noris, and the computer cleared him based on this ID. He was allowed to go through after a routine check of his car’s trunk, even though he was wanted by the Canadian police. On the other side of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, at Port Angeles, Washington, Ressam was approached by U.S. customs agent Diana Dean, who asked some routine questions and then decided that he looked suspicious. He was fidgeting, sweaty, and jittery. He avoided eye contact. In Dean’s own words, he was acting “hinky.” More questioning—there was no one else crossing the border, so two other agents got involved—and more hinky behavior. Ressam’s car was eventually searched, and he was finally discovered and captured. It wasn’t any one thing that tipped Dean off; it was everything encompassed in the slang term “hinky.” But the system worked. The reason there wasn’t a bombing at LAX around Christmas in 1999 was because a knowledgeable person was in charge of security and paying attention.
I wrote about this again in 2007:
The key difference is expertise. People trained to be alert for something hinky will do much better than any profiler, but people who have no idea what to look for will do no better than random.
Here’s another story from last year:
On April 28, 2014, Yusuf showed up alone at the Minneapolis Passport Agency and applied for an expedited passport. He wanted to go “sightseeing” in Istanbul, where he was planning to meet someone he recently connected with on Facebook, he allegedly told the passport specialist.
“It’s a guy, just a friend,” he told the specialist, according to court documents.
But when the specialist pressed him for more information about his “friend” in Istanbul and his plans while there, Yusuf couldn’t offer any details, the documents allege.
“[He] became visibly nervous, more soft-spoken, and began to avoid eye contact,” the documents say. “Yusuf did not appear excited or happy to be traveling to Turkey for vacation.”
In fact, the passport specialist “found his interaction with Yusuf so unusual that he contacted his supervisor who, in turn, alerted the FBI to Yusuf’s travel,” according to the court documents.
This is what works. Not profiling. Not bulk surveillance. Not defending against any particular tactics or targets. In the end, this is what keeps us safe.
Posted on April 22, 2015 at 8:40 AM •
This is an interview with me from ITConversations.
Posted on May 12, 2005 at 1:48 PM •
In both Secrets and Lies and Beyond Fear, I discuss a key difference between attackers and defenders: the ability to concentrate resources. The defender must defend against all possible attacks, while the attacker can concentrate his forces on one particular avenue of attack. This precept is fundamental to a lot of security, and can be seen very clearly in counterterrorism. A country is in the position of the interior; it must defend itself against all possible terrorist attacks: airplane terrorism, chemical bombs, threats at the ports, threats through the mails, lone lunatics with automatic weapons, assassinations, etc, etc, etc. The terrorist just needs to find one weak spot in the defenses, and exploit that. This concentration versus diffusion of resources is one reason why the defender’s job is so much harder than the attackers.
This same principle guides security questioning at the Ben Gurion Airport in Israel. In this example, the attacker is the security screener and the defender is the terrorist. (It’s important to remember that “attacker” and “defender” are not moral labels, but tactical ones. Sometimes the defenders are the good guys and the attackers are the bad guys. In this case, the bad guy is trying to defend his cover story against the good guy who is attacking it.)
Security is impressively tight at the airport, and includes a potentially lengthy interview by a trained security screener. The screener asks each passenger questions, trying to determine if he’s a security risk. But instead of asking different questions—where do you live, what do you do for a living, where were you born—the screener asks questions that follow a storyline: “Where are you going? Who do you know there? How did you meet him? What were you doing there?” And so on.
See the ability to concentrate resources? The defender—the terrorist trying to sneak aboard the airplane—needs a cover story sufficiently broad to be able to respond to any line of questioning. So he might memorize the answers to several hundred questions. The attacker—the security screener—could ask questions scattershot, but instead concentrates his questioning along one particular line. The theory is that eventually the defender will reach the end of his memorized story, and that the attacker will then notice the subtle changes in the defender as he starts to make up answers.
Posted on December 14, 2004 at 9:26 AM •
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.