Wednesday, April 20, 2005

When Your Passport Can Get You Killed

The balance between privacy and security for all of us was fatally disrupted when the United States decided that it was at war with terrorism.

To be at war with an idea, with a consequence, instead of a country or person is not an easy thing to manage. The first casualty of the war on terrorism was the ability to express an opinion. This is often referred to as free speech, but as history shows, it is an early and frequent victim of conflict.

When crowds, or countries, decide that they are threatened by "them", some pretty ugly things start happening. An enduring image for me is of a 61 year old man being arrested at a shopping mall for wearing a T-shirt which said "Peace on Earth, Give Peace a Chance".

I have tried to avoid travelling to the US by air after a number of incidents which were both unpleasant and unnecessary, and inflicted by the screening personnel at airports. There is nothing you can do as a traveller but submit, however outrageous the request.

And so to the US campaign to force all other countries in the world to issue new passports. These documents are to have biometric and biographical information on an unsecured, unencrypted chip that can be read by a contact-less proximity reader. The US has actively and successfully argued against encrypting the information on the chip or allowing safeguards to prevent unauthorized data acquisition.

Which means that you can be scanned without your knowledge and have all your personal details picked up by someone who may or may not be doing so for innocent reasons.

There is an excellent overview of the technological and societal implications written by Scott Bradner in his NetworkWorldFusion column.

I find it difficult to think of a positive outcome for any of this.

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