Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Addressing security versus liability

Janet Napolitano was right when she said "The System worked" in reference to the foiling of suicide undie-bomber. Of course, she meant The System as in Homeland Security's hapless goons, whereas I mean the system as in people. On Northwest Flight 253 technology and bureaucracy failed, but people, people paying attention, worked very well indeed. Yet it is technology and bureaucracy into which we intent to make greater investment.

There is an all too pervasive attitude that our national problems can be fixed, that we can legislate or buy or build them away, rather than actually deal with them every day. There's no technological solution to the problem of global disenfranchisement, frustration, exploitation. I'm not pointing the finger only at the US here. Terror groups exploit these bombers as much as we exploit their sponsor nations. But some Western Massachusetts tech firm doesn't hold all the answers to these problems. We do, people hold the answers, people paying attention and people caring. Not so much people selling some product.

The more our security personnel stare into screens and protocol manuals and the less they stare into passengers' eyes, the more vulnerable US airtravel becomes. For these new passenger screening devices, in order to protect privacy, it's proposed the screener actually perform his duties in another room! How can security effectively screen passengers if they're in separate rooms? They can't.

Current procedures and proposals don't address security, they address the liability of security. If you spend untold millions on hardware and comply with inspector checklists, then certainly you've secured your facility, right? Absoutely wrong. No one who flies with their eyes open can avoid seeing security weaknesses and that's because when you fit a digital peg into a human hole, there's going to be gaps.

Effective security measures, human security measures aren't as easily measured and quantified. They aren't as easily documented and beureaucratized, but they're far safer. This concept isn't that staggering, though, or even original. The Israelis have known this for years.