Friday, June 23, 2006

Airline Security and Profiling

Schneier has had several posts recently that have been quite disappointing in their lack of logic or in any real attempt to analyze the issue. This blog entry quotes Patick Smith's Salon article on why the Israeli model of airport securty won't work in the US. To prove his point on profiling, Smith cherry picks several historical aircraft incidents that weren't done by middle eastern males. This is far from a realistic study of the facts. Instead of making a reasonable analysis, Schneier just jumps on the band wagon.
Racial profiling doesn't work against terrorism, because terrorists don't fit any racial profile.
The funny part, comes in Schneier's quiz. He takes the points that Smith quotes and then fails to provide all of the related data. The dates of the quoted points are also all mover than 12 years old.

Interestingly, commentors to the site throw the B.S. flag on his contention. Such as:
That sounded a bit like "it didn't work in five cases, so it will never work".

Of course profiling cannot be anywhere near 100% reliable, but that doesn't mean it has no value.

Sikh extremists and Irish (in the '80s) would also be targets of any serious profiling.

Profiling, not just on race but on a number of criteria, can give some clues. If they are used with common sense and care, they can help.

(Just my opinion, of course).

The comments also provide other salient points relating to effectiveness and costs. At least they have some thought behind them.

Further to the point I found Patrick Smith's article quite informative and it doesn't try to play the PC game. This is the simple point that he makes in his article:
But it's not draconian strictness or bullying regulations that make Tel Aviv so impressive -- not on the surface, anyway. It's common sense and efficiency. The place isn't merely safeguarded; it's downright passenger friendly. So it would seem those letter writers are right. We could do worse than emulate our allies in the Middle East. Why can't we, or why don't we, have a system like theirs?

Unfortunately, that's a bit like asking why America's streets can't be as clean as Singapore's. Mostly it's a case of scale. The United States has dozens of mega-terminals, and hundreds more of varying sizes; the nation's top 25 airports each process more than 20 million people a year. Tel Aviv is Israel's sole major airport, handling 9 million passengers annually -- about the same as Raleigh-Durham, N.C. The ability to focus on this single, consolidated portal makes the job comparatively simple. There are aspects worth borrowing, for sure, but it's naive to think Israeli protocols can, in whole, be fitted to a nation that is 50 times more populous, and immeasurably more diverse and decentralized.

That sounds like a fairly astute conclusion to me.

I'm slowly losing respect for Schneier. In general he's been excellent in analysis of security, but when he allows personal and political views to cloud his judgment he, like all of us, makes bad conclusions.

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