HOWTO fix security after the Boston bombing

As we think about the postmortem on security procedures following from the Boston Marathon attack and plan on new procedures, Bruce Schneier has some crucial security design advice: don't forget transparency and accountability. Without these two crucial elements, security can't work:

Long ago, we realized that simply trusting people and government agencies to always do the right thing doesn't work, so we need to check up on them. In a democracy, transparency and accountability are how we do that. It's how we ensure that we get both effective and cost-effective government. It's how we prevent those we trust from abusing that trust, and protect ourselves when they do. And it's especially important when security is concerned.

First, we need to ensure that the stuff we're paying money for actually works and has a measureable impact. Law-enforcement organizations regularly invest in technologies that don't make us any safer. The TSA, for example, could devote an entire museum to expensive but ineffective systems: puffer machines, body scanners, FAST behavioral screening, and so on. Local police departments have been wasting lots of post-9/11 money on unnecessary high-tech weaponry and equipment. The occasional high-profile success aside, police surveillance cameras have been shown to be a largely ineffective police tool.

Sometimes honest mistakes led organizations to invest in these technologies. Sometimes there's self-deception and mismanagement -- and far too often lobbyists are involved. Given the enormous amount of security money post-9/11, you inevitably end up with an enormous amount of waste. Transparency and accountability are how we keep all of this in check.

Second, we need to ensure that law enforcement does what we expect it to do and nothing more. Police powers are invariably abused. Mission creep is inevitable, and it results in laws designed to combat one particular type of crime being used for an ever-widening array of crimes. Transparency is the only way we have of knowing when this is going on.

Transparency and Accountability Don't Hurt Security—They're Crucial to It


        1. Let me let you in on a little secret, the powers that be are extremely fearful that enough people will figure out that change is possible and even probable.  I’m not talking about little tiny change.  I’m talking about change that frees slaves, abolishes monarchy, and forms constitutional government.

          I don’t even know why I’m posting this.  You are a nonentity incapable of determining your future.


  1. Let’s not forget proportionality. Most Americans are still a heck of a lot more likely to get murdered by someone with a gun than by someone with a bomb.

        1. ITAR – the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations.  Because publishing plans for 3D-printed guns might make it possible for foreigners to get guns, which they don’t have access to right now.

    1.  Terrorism is a strike against the heart and mind. Fortify these targets and it will always fail.

      Of course, if we are made weak many can become mighty lords over us. Everyone who seeks to make us weak is an ally of the terrorists. They don’t want to fix security, they want to use security as an instrument of power.

  2. I’d love to see a public vote on spending millions of dollars to equip our local cops with military equipment they can use for marijuana busts.

    What on earth do the police ever use M16’s for anyway? Tanks?

    1. I used to live near a town in New Jersey that owned a tank.  Their police chief in the 70s convinced the town council to buy it.  At the time, there was a lot of Puerto Rican independence-related protesting and occasionally rioting going on in the country, and the township and surrounding areas had a naval base (which would neither confirm nor deny having nuclear weapons) and some areas with lots of Puerto Ricans, and the chief was concerned that the Puerto Ricans might riot and take over the naval base to get the nukes, and the Navy might not be able to defend themselves, so they needed a town tank to save the world!  Yeah, really.  And the town bought it.  It didn’t get used much, except maybe for parades or something.

      Now, if it had been some kind of amphibious assault vehicle that they were buying to haul cars out of the swamp or something, it could have actually made sense. 

    1. Boston police are already good at bomb detection, when it’s Mooninites giving them the finger or MIT students with micro-controller blinky-light t-shirts at the airport.  Just not real bombs.

  3. Back in the 1970s bomb threats were daily. After spending big bucks with the experts it boiled down to having the workers inspect their own area for anything out of place. On the streets that means the street vendors and the shop keepers. At an event it means anything left behind. One thing not seen here yet is a small blast attracting a lot of people to the big one that follows. Security is fine but some public training wouldn’t hurt.

  4. Perfect security is perfectly impossible. We shouldn’t even be trying for it.

    The only way you get any real security against terrorist attacks is:

    (a) to try to avoid being such an obviously justifiable target . Shut down Gitmo and otherwise avoid GRATUITOUSLY HELPING them classify you as The Great Satan. There are things we do which are worth doing despite the backlash, certainly, but there are a great many which really aren’t.

    (b) to stop feeding the trolls. Call them what they are — criminals, mass-murderers, and such — rather than letting them claim the better-sounding titles. Give their cause no publicity. Most importantly, DO NOT COLLABORATE, which is what happens when we react in ways that do more and longer-lasting harm to ourselves than their provocations could ever achieve.

    A flea may bite a lion. But the flea remains a flea, and the lion remains a lion. The flea’s attack is extremely uncomfortable at the point they bit, but that means you scratch that flea — and if possible use a highly targeted insecticide and/or repellant to get rid of other fleas, without damaging other things or poisoning yourself — lick the spot liberally to speed healing, and go back to exactly what you were doing before you picked up that flea. You _don’t_ cower, run in circles, strike out at random, or otherwise let the flea change your behavior for more than a moment.

  5. This “more security” crap is dead end just like the war on drugs. there is always going to be a lunatic willing to find flaws and exploit them to terror the world. the point should have been how to prevent such lunatics from emerging through education, justice and freaking equality. Not just for the US but for the fracking world.

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