Thursday, 28 October 2010

Security Flaws

PassportsWith great flights come great responsibilities, and the ongoing security fanaticism that is sweeping the world is demanding more and more victims. The latest craze is the need to register your upcoming arrival to the USA in advance through the web (check it out here), and while we've been actively trying to avoid flying to and through the USA just in order to avoid going crazy, America has been inspiring copycats.
This is where we come into the picture by attempting to book family visit flights that would take us, amongst others, to the UK. The UK is expected to copy the USA's pre-arrival registration policy, and in an attempt to mitigate potential issues our travel agent - one of the biggest travel agencies in Australia - has informed us of their new policies: "To avoid passengers been denied boarding to their flights in the future [travel agency's name removed] has decided to bring in a policy of capturing all [my emphasis - MR] Client Passport details prior to ticketing to ensure that future changes to ticketing requirements do not adversely impact you as a traveller, or [travel agency's name removed] as a travel agent."
Look at what havoc the USA is creating and how eroded our civil liberties, privacy in particular, have become. In order to mitigate a potential minor issue that can be easily addressed through ten minutes on the web, would be passengers are now being asked to provide their very personal details to a travel agent. Travel agents are not exactly renowned for their data security skills, yet we have been asked to give them more than enough details to allow them to open a bank account on our name - or, worse, withdraw the money in our existing bank accounts.
Most people will probably fail to register the problems here and give their details away; I have no intention of doing so. I'm sure the travel agency will not hesitate to take my money and forget their policies if I protest hard enough, but even if they insist - what grounds do they have? Am I not allowed to book flights with no passports whatsoever, having them produced just a few days prior to the flight?

This chain of insecurity flows, from the USA through the UK and down to our travel agency is interesting. I put the blame on the higher grounds, the USA and the UK. I've given up on the USA years ago; the country has gone insane when it chose George W as its president (note I did not say "elected") and when it came up with a so called Patriot Act that is anything but.
The UK, however, is a different story. The UK has always been the smart country. But no more: I have already discussed the UK's fall here, but if ever there was doubt as to how bad things are in "Great" Britain then the last couple of weeks have proved the point for all to see. On one hand, the UK has announced budget cuts to education (higher education is going to cost a lot more, as per the news here) and severe budget cuts to science, although somewhat reversed just recently given the protests (read here).
However, where do you think the UK has all the money in the world to spend? You got it - when it comes to snooping the private lives of its citizens, the UK has all the money in the world. Two billion pounds are going to be spent on a system that keeps track of everything you do over the web, including emails (read here). As usual, the justification is security.
Let me ask a simple question, though. How will the government be able to scan through all the data it collects in order to identify threats? We are talking about a huge amount of data here. We are also talking about a system that is incredibly simple to override: all you need is encryption on your web surfing, either through HTTPS connections, VPN networks, Tor or any of many other easily accessible methods. So accessible the real criminals will just use them by default, leaving the two billion system tracking the ignorant web users - people like the majority of my family members - as they go about doing their mundane Internet Facebook stuff. What are the chances then of this data being used out of context? History shows us this is guaranteed, just the same as data leaks are. Great security relief for the UK, no doubt about it!
The point to all this is the ease with which, for no particular reason other than the mere appearance of doing something about security, our privacy is being further and further eroded. The government is able to get away with it through people's ignorance in such matters, while at the same time people become more and more ignorant through lack of investment in education and science. Give it twenty years or so and the UK will become a true nation of imbeciles. What a shame to think there will be no next generation Richard Dawkins, no new David Attenborough. Instead we'll have to settle with tight airport security.

1 comment:

Moshe Reuveni said...

Our travel agent came back with the following today:
"The information you have for the USA is changing on the first of November. Pre-Visa Waiver registration is slightly different to Advance Passenger Information - The US has now made it mandatory for Passport details to be in a booking prior to it being ticketed. The UK is expected to go down the same path."

Note the USA insists on having very private passport information included in the travel record, which is far from privacy oriented. In effect, your details are out in the open.
I have two observations to make here:
1. By doing this, the USA is eroding the value of the passport system altogether. It's not going to be Israelis going to assassinate a Hamas agent in Dubai copying passports using this information; every second person would be able to do it.
2. Needless to say, I am deeply appalled by the USA's disregard to privacy and by its willingness to suppress civil liberties in the name of security measures of dubious value. I hope Americans start waking up to ask questions of their government. To Obama I will say this: you're a loser.