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Travel costs

I've never been much for conspiracy theories – in general, I tend to believe that I'm not important enough to be worth conspiring against – but if I were, this week would be a valid time. On Monday, they began lifting the draconian baggage restrictions imposed late last week. On Wednesday, we began seeing stories questioning the plausibility, chemistrywise, of the plot as we have been told it so far. On Thursday, the Guardian published a package of stories outlining the wonderful increased surveillance we have in store. Repeat after me: the timing is just coincidence. It is sheer paranoia to attribute to conspiracy what can be accounted for by coincidence.


One of the things I meant to mention in last week's net.wars but forgot is the US's new rules on passenger data, which require airlines to submit passenger records before the plane takes off instead of, as formerly, afterwards. Ed Hasbrouck has a helpful analysis of these new rules, their problems, and their probable costs. (has anyone calculated the lost productivity cost of the hours in airport security?). The EU now wants to adopt those rules for its ownself, a sad reversal from the notion that the EU might decline to provide passenger data to a country that has so little privacy protection.

One possibility that's been raised on both sides of the Atlantic is a "trusted passenger" scheme, whereby frequent travelers can register to be fast-tracked through the airport. In a sense, most airports already have the beginnings of such a scheme: frequent flyers. As a Gold Preferred US Airways Dividend Miles member, you use the first-class check-in, and in some airports even sped through security via a special line. Do I love it? You betcha. Do I think it's good security? No. If I were a terrorist wanting to get some of my cellmates onto planes to wreak havoc, I would have them flying all over the place building up a stainless profile until everyone trusted them. Only then would they be ready for activation. Obviously the scheme the security services have in mind will be more sophisticated and involve far more background checking, but the problem of the sleeper remains. It's like people who used to talk about gaming the system by getting a "dope-dealer's haircut" before traveling internationally: short, neat, and business-like. That will be the "terrorist's travel identity": suit, tie, briefcase, laptop, frequent flyer gold status, documented blameless existence.

The UK is also talking about "positive profiling" (although Statewatch notes that no explicit references to this appear in the joint press statement), which I guess is supposed to be more sophisticated than "Let's strip search all the Asian passengers" The now-MP-formerly-one-of-my-favorite-actresses Glenda Jackson has published a fairly cogent set of counter-arguments, though I'll note picayunally that the algorithm for picking passengers to search randomly had better be less clearly visible than just picking every third passenger in the queue. (You must immediately! report anyone who asks to change places with you!) The Home Secretary, John Reid, has said that such profiling will not target racial or religious groups but will be based on biometrics – fingerprints, iris scans. We hope Reid is aware of the years of research into fingerprints (DOC) attempting to prove that you could identify criminality in a fingerprint.

Closer to net.wars' heart is ministers' intention to make the Web hostile to terrorists. For example: by blocking Web sites that incite acts of terrorism or contain instructions on how to make a bomb. Aside from the years of evidence that blocking does not work, it's hard to see how you can get rid of bomb-making instructions, such as they are, without also getting rid of pretty much any Web site devoted to chemistry or safety. Though if you're an arts-educated politician who is proud of knowing little of science, that may seem like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. Show me someone who's curious, who wants to know how things work, who likes to try making things and soldering things, and playing with electrical circuits, and I'll show you a dangerous specimen.

But beyond that, I'll bet professional terrorists do not learn how to make bombs by reading Wikipedia.or typing "how make bomb" into Google.

I'm not sure how you make the Web hostile to terrorists without making it hostile to everyone. If you really want to make the Web hostile, the simplest way is simply to limit, by government fiat, the speed of the connection anyone is allowed to buy. Shove us all back to dial-up, and not only does the Web become hostile for terrorists trying to find information on how to make bombs, but you've pretty much solved music/video file-trading, too. Bonus!

We hear quoted a lot, now, the American master-of-all-trades Benjamin Franklin who probably said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." But the liberties people deem essential seem to be narrowing, and no one wants to believe that safety is temporary. No plane full of passengers declines screening, saying, "We'll take our chances."

If there's a conspiracy, I guess that means we're in on it.

Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, at her personal blog, or by email to netwars@skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).


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Another good article (as usual).
With all this talk of profiling, I wonder if we should search for the "powerseeker" gene? If we can find and eradicate that, I wonder how much better the world would be? After all, it seems to be the politicians and religious leaders who seek all knowledge and power over everyone else.

"I hate being edited," she claims in her acknowledgments, and it shows.

Salon said it first but surely many more have sid it since.

The hard thing about editing a writer who has a rather dry sense of humour, is that you can easily blunder into a delicate piece of writing with a thick blue pencil. I know I've done this (and had it done to me!).
Frankly (speaking as one who edits Wendy's copy each week!) she's right to be touchy about people fiddling with things they don't understand.
In my case, of course, I shoot first, and do the investigation afterwards, so when Wendy says she hates being edited, it's probably just one of those bullets ricocheting...
But if she's made an error, you can correct it without qualms.


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