May 7, 2021

Homeland Insecurity

Nice article by Charles Mann in the September 2002 issue of the The Atlantic, about Bruce Schneier and his opinions on homeland security. Bruce thinks insightfully about security, and is a great communicator as well. If you’re interested in computer security, Bruce’s CryptoGram newsletter is a must-read.

Bruce says that much of the money and effort being spent on improving homeland security is wasted, going to high-tech systems that fail often and sometimes catastrophically, and to new procedures that have little connection to any real threat. He argues that we should match our defenses carefully to the threat, and that we should rely more on human judgment and less on gee-whiz machines. All of this makes sense.

The article is properly skeptical about biometric identification technologies like fingerprint readers and iris scanning, explaining how many of them can be defeated by low-tech methods. Skepticism is the right response to any new security technology, but for some reason biometrics and the like often get a free pass. Many people know that new technologies are unreliable; yet they seem strangely predisposed to assume that big-brotherish ones will work.