These comments on the security of electronic passports are an excellent primer on the dangers of the technology. Definitely read Attachment 1: “Security and Privacy Issues in E-Passports,” a more technical paper by Ari Juels, David Molnar, and David Wagner.
Entries Tagged "ID cards"
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The London School of Economics recently published a report on the UK government’s national ID proposals. Definitely worth reading.
From the summary:
The Report concludes that the establishment of a secure national identity system has the potential to create significant, though limited, benefits for society. However, the proposals currently being considered by Parliament are neither safe nor appropriate. There was an overwhelming view expressed by stakeholders involved in this Report that the proposals are too complex, technically unsafe, overly prescriptive and lack a foundation of public trust and confidence. The current proposals miss key opportunities to establish a secure, trusted and cost-effective identity system and the Report therefore considers alternative models for an identity card scheme that may achieve the goals of
the legislation more effectively. The concept of a national identity system is supportable, but the current proposals are not feasible.
Very interesting story this morning on NPR, about new voter ID requirements in the state of Georgia.
Controversy Surrounds Georgia Voter ID Proposal
Minorities and the elderly in Georgia strongly oppose a proposal to require photo IDs for voters at the polls. Both groups say the plan, if enacted, would restrict their access to the polls. Supporters say they don’t want to stop anyone from voting, just safeguard the integrity of the election process. Susanna Capelouto of Georgia Public Broadcasting reports.
Those who advocate photo IDs at polling places forget that not everyone has one. Not everyone flies on airplanes. Not everyone has a drivers license. If a photo ID is required to vote, it had better be 1) free, and 2) easily available everywhere to everyone. Otherwise it’s a poll tax.
The Department of Homeland Security is considering a biometric identification card for transportation workers:
TWIC is a tamper-resistant credential that contains biometric information about the holder which renders the card useless to anyone other than the rightful owner. Using this biometric data, each transportation facility can verify the identity of a worker and help prevent unauthorized individuals from accessing secure areas. Currently, many transportation workers must carry a different identification card for each facility they access. A standard TWIC would improve the flow of commerce by eliminating the need for redundant credentials and streamlining the identity verification process.
I’ve written extensively about the uses and abuses of biometrics (Beyond Fear, pages 197-200). The short summary is that biometrics are great as a local authentication tool and terrible as a identification tool. For a whole bunch of reasons, this DHS project is a good use of biometrics.
Has anyone heard of the Center for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology Policy? They released a statement saying that not issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens is bad for security. Their analysis is good, and worth reading:
As part of the legislative compromise to pass the intelligence reform bill signed into law by the President today, the administration and Congressional leaders have promised to attach to the first ‘must pass’ legislation of the new year a controversial provision that was rightly dropped from the intelligence reform bill — this provision would effectively prevent the states from issuing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens by requiring ‘legal presence’ status for holders of licenses to be used as ‘national ID.’
Although this provision is being touted by its supporters as a security measure, its implementation in practice will be to undermine national security because it ignores three widely-recognized principles of counter-terrorism security: the shrinking perimeter of defense; the need to allocate resources to more likely targets; and the economics of fraud.
First, the very fact that 13 million illegal aliens are already within our borders means that a perimeter-based defense is porous. The proposed policy would eliminate another opportunity to screen this large pool of people and to separate ‘otherwise law abiding’ illegal aliens from terrorists or criminals by confirming identity when licenses are issued or when such licenses are presented or used for identity screening at checkpoints.
Recognizing the porous nature of perimeter defense does not mean that border security should not be improved or that additional steps to prevent illegal immigration should not be taken, however, not recognizing its porous nature is unrealistic, counter to current trends in security practice, and undermines national security. Rather than excluding 13 million people already within our borders, we should encourage non-terrorist illegal aliens to participate in internal security screening systems.
This leads to the second point. Contrary to the argument made by its supporters that denying illegal aliens licenses would prevent terrorists from ‘melting’ into society, this legislation would guarantee a larger haystack in which terrorists can hide thus making it more difficult for law enforcement to identify them. Counter-terrorism strategy is based on reducing the suspect population so that security resources can be focused on more likely suspects. Denying identity legitimacy to 13 million illegal aliens — the vast majority of whom are not terrorists or otherwise threats to national security — just increases the size of the suspect pool for law enforcement to have to sort through. Since law enforcement resources are already unable to effectively cope with the large illegal alien population why further complicate their task?
Third, the proposed legislation would increase the incentives for fraud by greatly inflating the value of a driver’s license and by creating significant new demand for fraudulent licenses by making the driver’s license actual proof of citizenship or legal status. Arguments in support of the legislation are based in part on denying illegal aliens the de facto legitimacy that a driver’s license currently confers, yet the legislation would actually make such legitimacy a matter of law, thus increasing the demand for fraudulent licenses not only among those illegal aliens wishing to drive but among all 13 million who may now see it as a way to get jobs or otherwise prove their legitimate status.
If 13 million people living within our borders can’t drive, fly, travel on a train or bus, or otherwise participate in society without a driver’s license and they cannot get a legitimate one, then the market will supply them an illegal fraudulent one. State DMV bureaucracies, no matter how well- intentioned, do not have the resources, training, or skill to prevent fraud driven by this additional demand and no federal mandate will be able to prevent organized criminal elements from responding.
On the other hand, if illegal aliens are allowed to get legitimate licenses upon thorough vetting of their identity, then the only ones who will be trying to get fraudulent documents will be terrorists or criminals — who will face increased costs and more opportunities for mistakes if there is less overall demand — and law enforcement resources can be focused on these activities.
Fourteen states currently allow driver’s licenses to be obtained without showing ‘legal presence.’ These laws were enacted for public safety reasons — to ensure that drivers meet some standard to drive and to lower insurance premiums by decreasing the pool of unlicensed and uninsured drivers. In most cases, these laws were passed with the strong support of state law enforcement officials who recognized the advantages of being able to identify drivers and discourage unlicensed drivers from fleeing from minor traffic infractions or accidents because they were fearful of being caught without a license. The analogous arguments hold for national security — the more we can encourage otherwise law abiding people within our borders to participate in the system the easier it will be to identify those that pose a true threat.
There may be legitimate reasons for cracking down on illegal immigration, there may even be reasons to deny illegal aliens driver’s licenses, but counter-terrorism security is not one. This provision was appropriately dropped from the intelligence reform bill and it should not be resurrected in the 109th Congress.
Amtrak will now randomly check IDs:
Amtrak conductors have begun random checks of passengers’ IDs as a precaution against terrorist attacks.
This works because, somehow, terrorists don’t have IDs.
I’ve written about this kind of thing before. It’s the kind of program that makes us no safer, and wastes everyone’s time and Amtrak’s money.
The World Series is no stranger to security. Fans try to sneak into the ballpark without tickets, or with counterfeit tickets. Often foods and alcohol are prohibited from being brought into the ballpark, to enforce the monopoly of the high-priced concessions. Violence is always a risk: both small fights and larger-scale riots that result from fans from both teams being in such close proximity — like the one that almost happened during the sixth game of the AL series.
Today, the new risk is terrorism. Security at the Olympics cost $1.5 billion. $50 million each was spent at the Democratic and Republican conventions. There has been no public statement about the security bill for the World Series, but it’s reasonable to assume it will be impressive.
In our fervor to defend ourselves, it’s important that we spend our money wisely. Much of what people think of as security against terrorism doesn’t actually make us safer. Even in a world of high-tech security, the most important solution is the guy watching to keep beer bottles from being thrown onto the field.
Generally, security measures that defend specific targets are wasteful, because they can be avoided simply by switching targets. If we completely defend the World Series from attack, and the terrorists bomb a crowded shopping mall instead, little has been gained.
Even so, some high-profile locations, like national monuments and symbolic buildings, and some high-profile events, like political conventions and championship sporting events, warrant additional security. What additional measures make sense?
ID checks don’t make sense. Everyone has an ID. Even the 9/11 terrorists had IDs. What we want is to somehow check intention; is the person going to do something bad? But we can’t do that, so we check IDs instead. It’s a complete waste of time and money, and does absolutely nothing to make us safer.
Automatic face recognition systems don’t work. Computers that automatically pick terrorists out of crowds are a great movie plot device, but doesn’t work in the real world. We don’t have a comprehensive photographic database of known terrorists. Even worse, the face recognition technology is so faulty that it often can’t make the matches even when we do have decent photographs. We tried it at the 2001 Super Bowl; it was a failure.
Airport-like attendee screening doesn’t work. The terrorists who took over the Russian school sneaked their weapons in long before their attack. And screening fans is only a small part of the solution. There are simply too many people, vehicles, and supplies moving in and out of a ballpark regularly. This kind of security failed at the Olympics, as reporters proved again and again that they could sneak all sorts of things into the stadiums undetected.
What does work is people: smart security officials watching the crowds. It’s called “behavior recognition,�? and it requires trained personnel looking for suspicious behavior. Does someone look out of place? Is he nervous, and not watching the game? Is he not cheering, hissing, booing, and waving like a sports fan would?
This is what good policemen do all the time. It’s what Israeli airport security does. It works because instead of relying on checkpoints that can be bypassed, it relies on the human ability to notice something that just doesn’t feel right. It’s intuition, and it’s far more effective than computerized security solutions.
Will this result in perfect security? Of course not. No security measures are guaranteed; all we can do is reduce the odds. And the best way to do that is to pay attention. A few hundred plainclothes policemen, walking around the stadium and watching for anything suspicious, will provide more security against terrorism than almost anything else we can reasonably do.
And the best thing about policemen is that they’re adaptable. They can deal with terrorist threats, and they can deal with more common security issues, too.
Most of the threats at the World Series have nothing to do with terrorism; unruly or violent fans are a much more common problem. And more likely than a complex 9/11-like plot is a lone terrorist with a gun, a bomb, or something that will cause panic. But luckily, the security measures ballparks have already put in place to protect against the former also help protect against the latter.
Originally published by UPI.
Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.