Recently some influential bloggers got nailed by TSA for leaking security directives of Airlines that were issued post the failed Christmas Day attack. While the first Amendment is a much admired piece of legislation, a blogger’s right to blog cannot be greater than his desire to see his fellow citizens safe.
As someone who is brown , male, single ( and thus automatically a TSA curiousity) I travel to places like New York, San Fransisco, Austin, Atlanta, Ohio, Las Vegas for both personal and professional work- some of the following may be purely personal experiences.
1) Some of the biggest drawbacks that Airlines have had in the past were- Airport checks Susceptibility to social engineering. – They would rarely glance at a photo id if it is an American driver license but would do a proper job if it is a external passport. Unfortunately the second generation of Arab/ Asian exiles that are prone to internet based clerics have American issued passports as well as licenses. In addition they go to colleges and play soccer with actual citizens of foreign countries who can motivate or guide them. A look at the number of Arabic- Asian students in the University system who are not vetted by the TSA would reveal the magnitude of the problem.
I flew from Knoxville Tennessee to Las Vegas some months back on college I card, en route on my way back, I went through Washington, and was also hospitalized. Thus using a Vol Card, an Indian driving license and an American social security card – I managed to travel almost all the landscape. In addition I passed through enough transit airports to switch my destination. Sometimes I am so good I scare myself..
In order to catch a thief, the TSA needs to think like a thief rather than waste time and precious agents on just another liberal blogger. Have a contest open to all members of the public, and especially hackers, social media spammers, identity thieves- most of whom are starving people who need money AND respect. Say here is our system- and our processes. Break it to win a million dollars but share the solution with us in private.
2) Some elements of social media should be reviewed for a secure online identity. Twitter has a system for authenticating prominent people, that should be rolled out for all users of Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin. The costs should be subsidized by the airlines given the bail outs they received in 2004. or the Airlines should simply give an equity stake as the banks and the car companies did- to ensure there is no cutting of corners to make profits
3) Analyzing chatter– While the NSA and the TSA and CIA and the AAA etc monitor the internet for data and specifically terror linked chatter- these cases point to the fact that they need to adopt faster ways of crunching data ( MapReduce for fighting Terror- maybe is not a bad idea after all). Companies like SAS, SPSS, Revolution Computing can then collaborate with the data gathering companies by embedded analytical solutions.
What is more important? Catching people who are defaulting on their mortgages ( that can wait for a quarter and you can still catch them with more penal interest)
or Catching people who are defaulting on their conscience ( within 2 days of writing that email, tweet, facebook). Think of it as creating a big new system of online parking tickets, you can even create a lucrative online health insurance market by asking people to seek compulsory identity theft protection and insurance.
4) Spam and Identity Theft go hand in hand and so far as now have been dismissed by financial authorities as just another operating loss that shaves a few basis points. But when terrorists who are trained to blow up people get a sweet fake identity they can use to cause catastrophic losses in terms of market capitalization. If all onus on fraudulent transactions is placed firmly on the financial organizations including hefty fines they will be move much faster at eliminating these thefts.
5) Modifying customer facing interfaces- All American financial institutions have to abide by Fair Credit Lending Act and the USury act and the PAtriot Act ( ?). Since what they report is more or less the same- the interfaces of forms can be re designed or guideliness issued so that they are easy to read. A lot of fraud is caused because of the fine print phenomenon. Fine print can be fine in quality not just the font size. Design on the web needs to be monitored so that operations and risks forms have the same importance as marketing brochures. ( A sarcastic example below on Image Credits using just color and font size)
6) Kill all the terrorists.
That;s how they did in my native state of Punjab in India.
7) Point 6 may be an analytical over reaction. With social media tools that the new Govt is rolling out- citizens can play more prominent roles in suspicious activities tracking. Use your Android or I Phone to tweet to a secure govt website on anything suspicious. The techies there would have installed Map Reduce and a Data Miner solution to cut the signal and noise chatter and get to the point of impact faster. Rather than wait for Daddy to call.
Disclaimer- The author knows no government sources and no terrorists. Some of his insights are personal given his father helped fight terrorists trained in Pakistan for 2 decades while in India. These are purely personal views only and all trademarks are acknowledged etc etc.
( and yes United Airlines kept me for 4 hours on an airport, that has no co relation to this story)
Image credit ( or how credit card companies charge fees)-