Thursday, February 22, 2007

TSA and the Amber Alert

I'm in the middle of finishing up a paper on airport security right now. I hope to make it public in the next couple weeks. I've been doing a lot of research, digging out quotes, facts, figures, etc. I came across this fantastic quote from John Gilmore in a discussion at the Volokh Conspiracy:

At United they eventually offered me a choice of showing an ID, consenting to an unspecified but intensive search, or not being able to buy a ticket. My lawyer always told me to never consent to a search -- if they have the right to search you, then they don't need your consent.



Which brings me to the topic of today's blog entry. On Feb 7, TSA announced that they were partnering with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children to help find kidnapped children. TSA will circulate information such as photos and descriptions of the abducted child, the suspect and vehicle - to all of their screening officers.

Why is this a bad idea?

1. TSA can barely accomplish their primary task - keeping bombs and weapons off airplanes. In Red Team style tests at New Jersey airport last year, TSA failed to catch 20 out of 22 attempts to smuggle prohibited items past checkpoints.

2. Children do not have ID, typically and TSA does not require them to have ID when they travel, even when with parents.

3. The vast majority of children travelling through the airport system have not been kidnapped. Just as the vast majority of passengers detained or selected for secondary screening by TSA are not terrorists. Thus, the chances are that most of the children/parents who are detained by TSA for being suspect child-nappers are going to be innocent.

Remember, a 1% false positive rate with 2 million passengers a day is still a lot of false positives.

4. Since children have no ID, if you do happen to steal a child - TSA has no way of proving that the kid isn't yours. Kids tend to look alike - esp. the younger ones - and a 10 dollar an hour TSA screener is certainly not going to be an expert on the subject.

Bruce Schneier believes that the no-fly list has not caught a single terrorist. However, it has caused serious inconveniece to a number of innocent travellers - Esp. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who the US renditioned to Syria and had tortured for a year after his name was incorrectly included on the no-fly list, thanks to incorrect intelligence provided by the Canadian government.

These are the kinds of false positives we have to face already due to the no-fly list. With the introduction of the Ambert Alerts at TSA, we now have a whole new class of potential false positives that will cause significant delay and hastle to passengers.

On the upside, perhaps after a few highly public wrongful arrests initiated by TSA staff, parents will stop flying as much - and thus significantly reduce my chance of having a screaming baby, or annoying seat-kicking child directly behind me on a flight .... just kidding ;)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't know what you are so hopped out about on this no-fly list and the tracking of innocent passengers.

The system works. That nut job NASA astronaut would never have been able to track down, pepper spray, and confront the woman that was the competition for the attention of the male astronaut, if passengers weren't tracked and the nut job didn't have the top secret security clearance required to check flight passenger lists and know when the woman was landing in Florida.