Friday, April 14, 2006

Secure flight lists, homeland insecurity etc

Airline Security a Waste of Cash is an interesting read. Like a lot of other things Bruce Schneier has written about security and privacy. Secure Flight Program isn't very successful according to Schneier (and quite a few other people), yet some things start to make sense. The Secure Flight and CAPPS that it was to replace are programs to check travelers against the 30,000 to 40,000 names on the government's No-Fly list, and another 30,000 to 40,000 on its Selectee list.

These lists consists of people and aliases who are too dangerous to be allowed to fly under any circumstance, yet so innocent that they cannot be arrested, even under the draconian provisions of the Patriot Act. The Selectee list contains an equal number of travelers who must be searched extensively before they're allowed to fly.

These lists come from the Terrorist Screening Database, a hodgepodge compiled in haste from a variety of sources, with no clear rules about who should be on it or how to get off it. The government is trying to clean up the lists, but - Schneier says it doesn't have much of success.

Schneier was a member of the government's Secure Flight Working Group on Privacy and Security. They looked at the TSA's program for matching airplane passengers with the terrorist watch list, and found a complete mess: poorly defined goals, incoherent design criteria, no clear system architecture, inadequate testing.. a lot more of it is explained and linked here.

TSA was also developing Registered Traveler along with the Secure Flight.

These lists of names on the Secure Flight .. well, at least makes one feel not that special. Ted Kennedy has suffered enough of it. The well-known Massachusetts Democrat was stopped five times as he tried to board US Airways shuttles because a name similar to his appeared on a list or his name popped up for additional screening.

"If they have that kind of difficulty with a member of Congress, how in the world are average Americans, who are getting caught up in this thing, how are they going to be treated fairly and not have their rights abused?" Kennedy asked Homeland Security undersecretary Asa Hutchinson.

Kennedy said he was stopped at airports in Washington, D.C., and Boston three times in March. Airline agents told him he would not be sold a ticket because his name was on a list.

Also Cat Stevens was refused entry to US on the same grounds - "The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the singer, who converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, was denied access to the US "on national security grounds".

Flight 919 from London to Washington was diverted to Bangor International Airport in Maine, after US security officials were told Mr Islam was aboard."

These aren't really unique - there are plenty of others. And it seems very easy to get to that list. Live in another country than which your passport or nationality states, use a credit card based and issued in a different country ... if you fly, and somoene else used their credit card to pay for your flight, you most likely get intensive screened. Again.


Airplane Security and Metal Knives is another thing that I have wondered for years. How exactly is using plastic knives supposed to make me feel safer in a plane? Whereas El Al, which for sure is high on the safety, uses metal cutlery in economy class (which I have to still test).


Sometimes I really wish the Native Americans ("Indians", not the rednecks) would have been better in the homeland security back in 1492