Posts Tagged 'bruce schneier'

“Security Theater” – We’ve Got a Front Row Seat

Photo by Thomas Hawk

Bruce Schneier is a cool head and a voice of reason when it comes to security and terrorism, and he has been outspoken on the issue of photographers’ rights. In his recent essay for the NewInternationalist, Schneier makes some salient points as usual. 

“Security theater” is the term Schneier uses to refer to measures that essentially make the public and government feel good but do little to actually prevent an incident. He writes:

An example: the photo ID checks that have sprung up in office buildings. No-one has ever explained why verifying that someone has a photo ID provides any actual security, but it looks like security to have a uniformed guard-for-hire looking at ID cards. Airport-security examples include the National Guard troops stationed at US airports in the months after 9/11 — their guns had no bullets. The US colour-coded system of threat levels, the pervasive harassment of photographers, and the metal detectors that are increasingly common in hotels and office buildings since the Mumbai terrorist attacks, are additional examples.

That makes perfect sense. When law enforcement and security guards harass photographers shooting in public places, it’s not like they’re really deterring terrorists or uncovering any plots, it just makes them feel like they’re doing their part in fighting a very intangible, nebulous enemy. 

And in a larger, big-picture sense, these misguided tactics work toward eroding our civil liberties and making us all feel a little less free than we were before. So in essence, this decision to criminalize very mundane, previously acceptable things (street photography, shampoo bottles on airplanes, etc.), it is us, the American people, who bear the brunt of the war on terror and find our lives are less pleasant and free than they were before. Joe Schmo Terrorist in Syria or wherever? He’s doing just fine.

And by the way, the best way to combat terrorism? Schneier says the most effective defenses are those you won’t even see in your day-to-day life: “investigation, intelligence, and emergency response,” and beyond that, it’s really about “our social and political policies, both at home and abroad.”

Schneier reminds us that the best way to deal with our new way of life, this all-consuming fear of terror, is not to overreact. As he says, terrorism is actually very rare. Don’t give into the hype, the hysteria, the suspicion lurking around the corner. It’s just not worth it and does nothing toward keeping us safe.

Read the whole piece on his blog: Schneier on Security.

Aerial Photography Tool for Terror – or Paranoia?

US Bank Tower, Downtown Los Angeles, via Google Maps

Aerial photography and Google maps have become a flash point for people who need a tangible target for their terrorism-related paranoia and fear. In March, we posted on Joel Anderson, the California State Assemblyman who is trying to get a law on the books that would blur out images of medical facilities, schools and government institutions in online mapping tools. Now, there’s another outspoken critic to add to the mix. reports that Pennsylvania piano tuner Scott Portzline is lobbying the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Homeland Security Secretary for the same cause. Portzline has apparently spent a lot of time figuring out how he’d attack a nuclear plant, so he thinks it’s fairly easy to do with information gathered on the internet. From the article:

“What we’re seeing here is a guard shack,” Portzline said, pointing to a rooftop structure. “This is a communications device for the nuclear plant.”

He added, “This particular building is the air intake for the control room. And there’s some nasty thing you could do to disable the people in the control room. So this type of information should not be available. I look at this and just say, ‘Wow.’ “

Interestingly, operators of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant that is close to Portzline’s home aren’t as worried as he is: “Our security programs are designed and tested to defend against (an attacker) that has insider information — even more information then is available on the Internet,” said Ralph DeSantis, spokesman for AmerGen, which operates the plant. “In addition to that, our physical security is constantly changing… so what you see one day won’t be the same as the next day.”

As noted security consultant and hysteria debunker, Bruce Schneier (read Refuse to be Terrorized), writes on his blog in response to this story:

Yes, and the same technology that allows people to call their friends can be used by terrorists to choose targets and plan attacks. And the same technology that allows people to commute to work can be used by terrorists to plan and execute attacks. And the same technology that allows you to read this blog post…repeat until tired.

Article via

Read Bruce Schneier’s “Fear of Aerial Images” here.

A Good Question

A recent article in The Guardian by security technologist and author Bruce Schneier says that photographers have been coming under increasing scrutiny since 9/11 under the auspices of national security. But, he says:

The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

He makes a good point. Outlawing photography makes politicans and law enforcement feel good, like they’re doing something in the fight. Unfortunately they’re going after the wrong people.

And in case there was any doubt, he gives this nice reminder:

Fear aside, there aren’t many legal restrictions on what you can photograph from a public place that’s already in public view. If you’re harassed, it’s almost certainly a law enforcement official, public or private, acting way beyond his authority. There’s nothing in any post-9/11 law that restricts your right to photograph.

Article via The Guardian.
Photo via let ‘er rip.

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