Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Schneier: Faulty War on Terror tactics target the 'unique, unorthodox and unexpected'

A wrong-headed reliance on citizen informants to combat the war on terror may have the unintended side effect of enforcing uniformity and cultural rigidity, says security guru Bruce Schneier, thanks to an unholy combination of media hype, unreliable informants, and bureaucratic CYA. Schneier says we opening up:
a new front on the war on terror. It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong. The problem is a combination of citizen informants and a CYA attitude among police that results in a knee-jerk escalation of reported threats.

This isn't the way counterterrorism is supposed to work, but it's happening everywhere. It's a result of our relentless campaign to convince ordinary citizens that they're the front line of terrorism defense.
This is the flip side of the "stop snitching" dilemma - what happens when the public starts snitching, but shares misleading or inaccurate information in volumes much greater than any useful data? After all, "If you ask amateurs to act as front-line security personnel," Schneier argues, "you shouldn't be surprised when you get amateur security."

His description of the type of information counterterrorism investigators receive and sometimes act upon from public tips reminded me of the Texas Youth Commission's recent experience with "tip lines" in the wake of the West Texas sex scandal. Often unmanned, according to the agency's Ombudsman, TYC's tip lines so far have generated more confusion and false accusations than indictments. This quote particularly reminded me of what's happening at TYC: "politicians need to stop praising and promoting the officers who get it wrong. And everyone needs to stop castigating, and prosecuting, the victims just because they embarrassed the police by their innocence." Sound advice all around, don't you think?

Schneier's one of the best at cutting through the BS and focusing on key security elements that really contribute to making us safer. I'd encourage those interested to read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

It gets worse. By encouraging everyone to spy on everyone, and then to take all tips as equally pertinent, the system will encourage people to deliberately abuse the surveillance apparatus for personal revenge.

Here's where a Swede decides to cause his son-in-law trouble.


W W Woodward said...

It's getting to the point where I'm actually having trouble determining the difference between post 9/11's United States and the 1930-40's Germany and the 1950's Soviet Union.

Children being rewarded for snitching on their parents. Or, was all that just propaganda?

We're hearing about the "fatherland" and secure borders, and scapegoating Mexicans, and now spying upon our families and neighbors.

Take a look at history. I'm seeing all sorts of parallels with (yeah, you guessed it) Nazi Germany. Maybe I'm some sort of conspiracy theory nut - I don't know.

I'm just getting dam'n uncomfortable with our government's way of doing business.