excerpt from my book on technology, terrorism, and
DHS, tentatively titled "Skating on Stilts." (If you want to
read the excerpts in a more coherent fashion, try the categories on the
right labeled "Excerpts from the book." I'm afraid I can't fix the bug
in TypePad that prevents me from putting them in the category in
reverse-chronological order, but I have started putting chapters up in
pdf form from time to time.) Comments and factual quibbles
are welcome, either in the comments section or by email:
firstname.lastname@example.org. If you're dying to order the book, send
mail to the same address.
That brings us back to Christmas Day 2009, and the question of why Abdulmutallab wasn’t on a no-fly or selectee list, or for that matter why 95% of the terrorist suspects known to the US government are treated like upstanding citizens when they get to the TSA checkpoint.
Imagine for a minute that you were a security official watching the ACLU press conference in 2008. You see that the organization got the number of names on the list wrong, trashed TSA for a problem they’d created themselves, and received fawning coverage for it. Do you really want to stick your head over the parapet and suggest a substantial expansion of lists that the ACLU says are already “out of control” and are victimizing tens of millions of Americans? Nope, in those circumstances, there wasn’t much chance that standards for getting on the lists would be eased, or that TSA would soon get operational access to the other 95% of the database.
In the end, when all is said and done, the investigations of the incident will find errors in how the agencies handled the lists and the screening. But when they do, for once we should skip the football analogies.
The errors weren’t “fumbles” or “dropped balls.” Instead, the most apt analogy comes from tennis.
Because if ever there were a “forced error” in policymaking, this is it.And as in tennis, full credit should go to the privacy advocates that forced it.