30 November 2008

My New Hero

Bruce Schneier is my new hero. The November 2008 issue of The Atlantic has a terrific article by Jeffrey Goldberg [an honorary hero] called “The Things He Carried,” about Goldberg (and Schneier) testing the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) work to “protect” air travel. For anyone who travels periodically, or who has been frustrated or amused at the absurd and arbitrary nature of TSA “enforcement,” this article is a must-read.

It reminded me of two related things, the first of which was a recent series of trips, one week apart. Trip #1 was to Boston for the day, and at the airport I presented my then-current driver’s license, which was set to expire on the 29th of this month. The agent looked quickly at the license, looked at me, looked at the date on the license, and reminded me that while it was “good” for a year after expiration I should probably get a new one. [Side note: it might be “good” for the TSA for a year, but it would hardly be legal for driving. Maybe the TSA should take over policy making for state departments of motor vehicles, too.]

A week later, I was off on trip #2, to Minneapolis … with my newly minted license in hand, fresh from the New York State DMV. Unlike the old license, this one has all sorts of security and holographic anti-forgery features built into it. At the checkpoint, the TSA agent looked at my license, looked at me, then picked up his loupe and looked at the license to confirm it was authentic.

That’s when it hit me: the previous week, the agent had a loupe, but he didn’t use it—because the old license didn’t need it, didn’t have much in it to look at through a loupe. In other words: if one wanted to fake one’s way past security, use an identity document that is “old” enough that no one would expect many of the obvious, modern anti-forgery tools to be included. Because apparently, old documents receive less scrutiny since there is less to scrutinize quickly.

[Two minutes later, something else happened: as my mind was pondering the implications of the above scenario, I absentmindedly passed my luggage through the x-ray scanner and walked myself through the metal scanner to the other side. As I was putting my shoes back on, I realized I had forgotten to take my Ziploc bag of liquid toiletries out and send them through separately. No one had said anything. So much for consistency, and yet more reinforcement for Schneier’s “security theater” argument. And on my return flight from Minneapolis, the agent at the x-ray machine was so busy bossing around her neighbors that she was paying scant attention to the scanned images on the screen in front of her.]

All of this reminded me of John Gilmore’s lawsuit over identity-and-security issues, as tracked by Reason Magazine in a series of articles in 2003 and 2004. As author Brian Doherty wrote in 2003,

"Real security, he [Gilmore] believes, comes from making sure travelers don't have weapons or explosives on them and having people on planes ready to fight would-be hijackers. Thus, the ID demand -- apparently the result of the still-secret government mandate -- serves no necessary state purpose and violates his right to travel, his rights to peaceably assemble and to petition his government for redress of grievances, and his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches."

To which I can only say: Amen. My trips to Boston and Minneapolis are perfect examples of this issue, where my identity should not have mattered much—but the security inspection of my luggage might have been more preventative and, thus, more effective. Or vice-versa.
Oh, and for the record—other heroes include Phil Zimmerman, Muhammad Ali, and John Lennon. There are more, but that’s enough for now. Long live eclecticism.


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