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UK To Use "Risk-Profiling Software" To Screen All Airline Passengers and Cargo

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the listen-to-the-computer dept.

Privacy 222

dryriver writes "The BBC reports: 'The UK branch of an American company — SAS Software — has developed a hi-tech software program it believes can help detect and prevent potentially dangerous passengers and cargo entering the UK using the technique known as 'risk profiling.' So, what exactly is risk profiling and can it really reduce the risk of international terrorism? Risk profiling is a controversial topic. It means identifying a person or group of people who are more likely to act in a certain way than the rest of the population, based on an analysis of their background and past behavior — which of course requires the collection of certain data on people's background and behavior to begin with. When it comes to airline security, some believe this makes perfect sense. Others, though, say this smacks of prejudice and would inevitably lead to unacceptable racial or religious profiling — singling out someone because, say, they happen to be Muslim, or born in Yemen. The company making the Risk-Profiling Software in question, of course, strongly denies that the software would single people out using factors like race, religion or country of origin. It says that the program works by feeding in data about passengers or cargo, including the Advanced Passenger Information (API) that airlines heading to Britain are obliged to send to the UK Border Agency (UKBA) at 'wheels up' — the exact moment the aircraft lifts off from the airport of departure. Additional information could include a combination of factors, like whether the passenger paid for their ticket in cash, or if they have ever been on a watch list or have recently spent time in a country with a known security problem. The data is then analyzed to produce a schematic read-out for immigration officials that shows the risk profile for every single passenger on an incoming flight, seat by seat, high risk to low risk.'"

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Not racist, right? (-1)

Alex Belits (437) | about 2 years ago | (#42064831)

Kudo to them and the UK (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065173)

We shouldn't fear every time some new technology is employed to fight evil. Don't just have a knee jerk reaction to this. I know people who have worked on this project and I trust them and their work.

Re:Kudo to them and the UK (3, Insightful)

1s44c (552956) | about 2 years ago | (#42065839)

We shouldn't fear every time some new technology is employed to fight evil. Don't just have a knee jerk reaction to this. I know people who have worked on this project and I trust them and their work.

I know governments that have worked on much more serious projects and I don't trust them or their work.

Fight evil? Don't make me laugh. Keep contractors in jobs and bureaucrats in bribes more like.

Now we all know it picks on Arabs who pay cash all the bad guys have to do is legally change their name from Mohammed to Hank, apply for a bank card, and order the standard in-flight meal.

It Believes (5, Insightful)

davesag (140186) | about 2 years ago | (#42064845)

Whereas I believe it's unlikely to work, probably expensive, and manifestly open to being gamed.

Sigh.

Re:It Believes (5, Interesting)

ledow (319597) | about 2 years ago | (#42064937)

All risk-profiling does is make you *think* you're more likely to catch certain people. In fact, what it does is provide a list of constraints that those people will actively avoid triggering and, thus, stand much less chance of being caught. Do you really think any terrorist is thinking of using a liquid bomb since the liquid-size limitation rules came in force? No, they'd do something else just to avoid detection.

The *only* way, if you don't want to check everyone out manually each time, is to do entirely random security checks. Stick your guys on the frontline to catch anything "funny" but flag 1 in 10 people who go through completely at random and make it a condition of their employment that your security guys must check those people, young or old, rich or poor, first class or economy, in a wheelchair or with a false leg or completely healthy, no excuses.

All this does is catch the stupid terrorists who would be caught anyway, while giving the sensible ones a perfect opportunity to knowingly and predictably reduce their risk by huge amounts.

What risk category are you going to enter? Travelled to dodgy countries recently? A stayover for a time in a country will soon time that out so it's not relevant. Or just use a local rather than a foreigner. Age range? That's just getting into the "children / old people can't be terrorists" mentality, which is a stupid place to go. Race? Religion? Credit card history? All of the people you would catch from things like that should be caught ANYWAY by just decent security in the first place. All the rest, that you miss, will deliberately be missed by profiled screening.

At least with random screening you stand a chance of catching someone that's avoiding your profiling, and a chance of spotting new trends ("Here, John, isn't that the third guy we've stopped who's had a little vial in his bag?"), and a chance of actually scaring off terrorists / smugglers / etc. from trying in the first place.

But all this is moot while you only enforce a decade-old security policy based on a single (unsuccessful) incident, rather than thinking about what's actually likely to be dangerous and what's not.

I can't take 100ml of water in a single bottle (but I can take more of "baby milk", so long as I drink from it first - and that check is as rigorous as security watching me put it to my lips and then looking away!), but I can take several bottles that won't be inspected.

I can also take large poles in a rucksack, and various amount of improvised weapons, and hell I know someone who went through Heathrow three times while carrying CS spray (which is illegal to possess in the UK, let alone on the plane). It wouldn't be hard to fashion an instrument from perfectly ordinary hand luggage capable of levering open the cabin door and threatening the pilot (and UK cockpits are not armed and don't have armed officers onboard) if that was your intention.

If you want security, automated profiling is like shouting "friend or foe?!". Nobody with any brains is ever going to shout foe (or be flagged by your profiling) if they have hostile intent.

Want to improve security? Scrap the enormous queues at every major UK airport - by scrapping all the stupid hand luggage restrictions (obviously keep things like "explosives" on the list, though!) and other crap (grab a tray, take off your belt, your shoes, put your laptop separately in here, etc.), and with all the time you spare your security people can have a 10 second chat with each passenger as they go through the gates rather than just dumbly standing there "checking" your passport (which is basically a "computer says no" exercise) or having 4-5 of them wave you through the metal detector while they have a chat.

Let them stop anyone they like and send them to a private queue for proper pat-down (out of the main queue, away from accomplices, not backing up the frontline guys), and also have automated gates that send 1-in-10 or 1-in-50, or whatever ratio, of people that way completely at random. And make sure that NOBODY, not even security, can get you out of that queue without going through the patdown or whatever else you deem a "proper" security check.

And hire new actors once a week to walk through the gates with something suspicious on their person without the knowledge of security staff and see how many get through. You won't stop them all, like you won't stop them all now.

Re:It Believes (5, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065019)

The biggest joke of all is the underlying assumption that terrorists are helpless so long as they can't get past airport security.

If I were a terrorist I'd just detonate my bag full of explosives/ball bearings in the line for the scanner.

Or just do it in any other place where there's lots of people. Doesn't really matter where, eg.. The car park for the superbowl would be a good place for a truck bomb.

Remind me again why we're spending so much on airport security...?

Re:It Believes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065155)

If I were a terrorist I'd just detonate my bag full of explosives/ball bearings in the line for the scanner.

The unspoken intention of the airport security is that it's better to have a few hundred people killed at the security checkpoint than have someone get control of an airplane and fly it into a building. The security isn't to protect the passengers, that's just a PR campaign.

Re:It Believes (3, Insightful)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 2 years ago | (#42065311)

So, by making the cockpit door out of slightly thicker plywood and fitting a bolt to it - similar to the one you are familiar with from your bathroom door - we can eliminate that threat entirely, for about 20 quid a plane. Less, really, because the DIY store will give you a discount on a large order of bathroom door bolts.

Re:It Believes (3, Informative)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065313)

The unspoken intention of the airport security is that it's better to have a few hundred people killed at the security checkpoint than have someone get control of an airplane and fly it into a building. The security isn't to protect the passengers, that's just a PR campaign.

The new cabin doors and increased passenger awareness already achieved that. Job done.

Re:It Believes (2)

JonathanCombe (642832) | about 2 years ago | (#42065417)

The new cabin doors and increased passenger awareness already achieved that. Job done.

Really? In the last year I've travelled on several planes flying from UK Airports with no door between the passenger compartment and the cockpit. Indeed you can sit right behind the pilot on some flights with no barrier or partition at all. Unless you have a door on every plane flying from every airport the rules are pointless. Similarly if I can get on a plane without going though luggage scanners then so can a terrorist so putting in scanners at some airports and not all airports makes it pointless. I suspect it is done in the hope it shuts up those that always claim "something must be done" after a terrorist attack. There are also airports in the UK with no seperation to airside so even after I've checked in, I can wander back outside (and potentially pick something up). The current situation is like having 50 bolts on your front door and leaving the back door wide open.

Re:It Believes (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | about 2 years ago | (#42065969)

Nope. There have been at least ten skyjackings since 2001, and at least two cases where people have successfully blown up commercial aeroplanes in flight. Even the "increased passenger awareness" has only prevented a few of the known bombing attempts.

Re:It Believes (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065335)

Seal the cockpit at takeoff. Problem solved.

Re:It Believes (4, Funny)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#42065721)

Vacuum seal the cockpit, to extend the shelf life of the pilots

Re:It Believes (4, Insightful)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 2 years ago | (#42065719)

If I were a terrorist I'd just detonate my bag full of explosives/ball bearings in the line for the scanner.

The unspoken intention of the airport security is that it's better to have a few hundred people killed at the security checkpoint than have someone get control of an airplane and fly it into a building.

If terrorists were as motivated, competent, and plentiful as all the security theatre seems to indicate, wouldn't they do precisely that, i.e. set bombs off at the check-in points of a half-dozen major airports? Not as much splash as flying a plane into a building, but it would still make air transport grind to a halt and cause huge economic and psychic damage.

The terrorists won on 9/11. The proof of that is seen in the pervasiveness, (and growing acceptance), of surveillance, loss of personal privacy, curtailment of personal freedoms, and an underlying siege mentality. They really don't need to fly any more planes into any more buildings.

Re:It Believes (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 2 years ago | (#42065325)

Because terrorists are dumb and they do keep trying to target aircraft.

Islamic terrorists want to die in the attack so they can become martyrs and collect their 72 virgins. The problem is that if you die in the attack all the skills and knowledge you acquired die with you. It is clear that they are not thinking clearly about how to achieve their long term goals or how to wage the most effective terror campaign, they just want to die in a blaze of glory.

That is why they always go for the big targets like aircraft or major buildings. As you point out they could easily kill far more people and could live through the attack to strike again. That isn't what they do though, so the assumption that they are screwed if they can't get past airport security is largely correct.

Re:It Believes (1)

FooRat (182725) | about 2 years ago | (#42065757)

Because terrorists are dumb and they do keep trying to target aircraft. ... That is why they always go for the big targets like aircraft

False and false - a quick check of the Global Terrorism Database [umd.edu] reveals that less than 0.2% of all terrorist attacks since 1991 were aircraft hijackings, and in fact less than 0.7% were targeted at any kind of airline-related infrastructure at all. Over 99% of terrorist attacks do not involve airlines or airports. (Anyone can download the database, and confirm these figures.)

Re:It Believes (2)

FooRat (182725) | about 2 years ago | (#42065773)

Islamic terrorists want to die in the attack so they can become martyrs and collect their 72 virgins

It is because of this that terrorists mostly prefer not to target airlines ... because airline security is so tight, they tend to end up just getting caught and rot in jail. But it's trivial to blow up e.g. a cafe in Tel Aviv for example and collect your virgins.

Re:It Believes (1)

bagorange (1531625) | about 2 years ago | (#42065345)

For two reasons that spring to mind:

Septmebr 2001 attacks depended on the murderers getting control of big planes, and decision makers absolutely don't want the murderers getting the chance to attack rich, powerful people's homes or places of work again.

The queues at airport also fulfil a security theatre purpose in that they do make people "feel" safer than they are being made.
Absolutely right that they could detonate the bomb while waiting at the airport, but they wouldn't be getting to pick and choose a target as they could if they had control of a plane.

Re:It Believes (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065513)

So...the people with private jets don't mind if the plebs get blown up at the airport. They're just making sure the bomb can't take off and fly towards them.

Got it.

Re:It Believes (3, Insightful)

jenningsthecat (1525947) | about 2 years ago | (#42065607)

The biggest joke of all is the underlying assumption that terrorists are helpless so long as they can't get past airport security.

To me, the "biggest joke" is that we believe we're powerless to address this problem at its source. I don't think I'm going all 'kumbaya' when I say that if nations set out with a will to stop meddling in each other's affairs for political and financial gain, a LOT of the terrorist threats would simply disappear. We wouldn't be totally safe - there'll always be crazies with an axe to grind - but we could go back to the days when travel security was a minor inconvenience and not a major hassle / personal violation.

As for the 'terrorist threats' since 9/11, how many have there been, apart from those made up by the FBI and other agencies in order to fatten their funding and broaden their power base? Does anyone here have access to credible stats on the real increase in terrorist activity in the developed world over the past decade?

Re:It Believes (2)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065057)

Want to improve security? ...security people can have a 10 second chat with each passenger as they go through the gates.

That doesn't work because any basic anti-depression medication will stop people from having nervous reactions when lying.

Just rehearse the scenario a couple of times and pop a double-dose half an hour before you go through.

Re:It Believes (3, Informative)

Gaygirlie (1657131) | about 2 years ago | (#42065109)

That doesn't work because any basic anti-depression medication will stop people from having nervous reactions when lying.

Just a minor nit-pick: that's not anti-depressants, that's anti-anxiety. Anti-depressants generally take 2-3 weeks to even start working and they do not affect nervousness. I just quit anti-depressants, so I'd say I know.

Re:It Believes (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065187)

Yeah, that's what I meant...was having a "duh" moment.

Re:It Believes (1)

benlad (1368001) | about 2 years ago | (#42065107)

One could only actively avoid the risk profiling if profiling criteria are known. I would imagine profiling criteria would not be in the public domain. I can see how risk profiling could improve detection rates.

Re:It Believes (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065167)

I would imagine profiling criteria would not be in the public domain.

Sure, but "normal" behavior is...all you have to do is act normal - don't pay cash for a one-way ticket, carry luggage, don't wear a big winter coat in summer, etc.

Every grown-up human (1)

k2r (255754) | about 2 years ago | (#42065763)

could bring aboard a hand-grenade, untracable, in a body-cavity, remove it on the loo and detonate it without it being damped.
This needs absolutely nothing except from a somewhat dirty imagination and lube.

The fact that this does not happen all the time tells me that there are way less people eager to blow up planes than we are made believe.

Re:It Believes (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about 2 years ago | (#42065813)

It's cover to look at who they want, like a cop pulling you over because he "transposed digits" on your license plate.

"Software made me!"

Re:It Believes (1)

1s44c (552956) | about 2 years ago | (#42065967)

Do you really think any terrorist is thinking of using a liquid bomb since the liquid-size limitation rules came in force?

I don't know about where you are but in Europe these rules don't actually prevent people bringing on enough liquid to make a decent explosion. They don't really do anything except force lot of travelers to throw away perfectly good bottles of water. There is no security in this system, just the illusion of security.

Have you actually read the rules? They were clearly written by a committee of people who know nothing about chemistry and have zero common sense.

The EU rules state you can bring one bag of max capacity 1 litre, in that you can bring as many 100ml bottles of liquid as you like. I'm guessing you could fit 600ml of any liquid you like in separate bottles, more if you spent time finding the right bottles.
Once you get past security you can mingle with other passengers, each could have brought in another 600ml of liquid to give to you. You can even buy large bottles too if you want to pour all your small bottles into a bigger one.

The whole liquid nonsense makes about as much sense as scanning for metal objects even though plastic diving knives are available and about as dangerous.

Re:It Believes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064973)

The Neo-cons are wealthy beyond imagine, and they don't want some poor Gotham who has finally realized their being enslaved trying to take-out an over-lord.

Re:It Believes (1)

Dr Max (1696200) | about 2 years ago | (#42065469)

How well it could be gamed depends on how high you turn up the sensitivity. Which is dependent on how far you are willing to push passengers (false positives) which by the look of things at the moment is quite a long way.

Re:It Believes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065645)

That is nonsense, if it worked that way I could sell you a program that just marks everyone a risk and the problem would be solved.
A high false positive rate will break your security system just as much as a large false negative rate.

Re:It Believes (4, Interesting)

jonnyj (1011131) | about 2 years ago | (#42065541)

Credit risk profiling is part of my job and these models do indeed wok. Unfortunately, they need large sample sizes to be effective. Unless the UKBA has intercepted more than 1,000 terrorists about to jump on a plane, I'd be very sceptical indeed.

Another big concern is that these models all assume that the future is the same as the past. Feeding the model data on Islamic terrorists isn't likely to help you detect extreme right nationalist groups, for example. As conflict moves around the world, there's a risk that the model will find last year's terrorist-turned-nobel-peace-prize-winner and completely ignore the perpetrator of next year's atrocity.

Re:It Believes (1)

1u3hr (530656) | about 2 years ago | (#42065649)

credit risk profiling is part of my job and these models do indeed wok.

("work")

Anyway, the risk of credit default is what, a few percent? The risk of a terrorist bomber is thousands of times less. Statistics can't give much guidance. And unlike most credit defaulters, terrorists plan to avoid those looking for them.

Re:It Believes (1)

DrXym (126579) | about 2 years ago | (#42065643)

A simple problem. A flight is arriving from Yemen at 530am with 100 passengers, and another flight from Amsterdam with 80 passengers, and another from Glasgow with 40 passengers. None of the Glasgow passengers are from connecting flights but 6 are foreign nationals. 8 of the passengers from the Amsterdam flight came from Saudi Arabia. 1 name comes up in a watchlist as a partial match. All planes land at different gates in different terminals. You have 4 checkpoints around the terminals but only 9 available police resources. Meanwhile 4 of the Yemen passengers are on connecting flights (but not the same flights either), and are going through the connection lounge, while 3 of the Glasgow passengers appears to be travelling to a nearby airport and checking in there. Now multiply the permutations by the hundreds of flights taking off and landing and passengers coming and going and police, customs and security staff who work shifts, and vacation / sickness and the time to physically travel from one location to another and every other permutation. How do you deploy your resources?

Perhaps some software wouldn't be a bad idea at all.

The first question the software would have to answer is how does it demonstrate it's working. How do you quantify "success"? How do you establish a baseline to even measure success? And how does the software justify its decisions? And is the software inflexible or can it be made to inject a bit of randomness into the situation, or for security to override an answer for a good reason?

Lots of things which could mean the difference between an effective tool and snakeoil. So I wouldn't say it's a good idea but it's not necessarily a bad idea either.

Re:It Believes (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065971)

"Whereas I believe it's unlikely to work, probably expensive, and manifestly open to being gamed."

Expensive? Just a filter, the browner you are, the guiltier you become.

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Why is this hi-tech? (2)

badfish99 (826052) | about 2 years ago | (#42064885)

Given the number of bad things that happen on airlines, the software could just assign a risk of "zero" to everything. This would be just as accurate as any other way of finding a non-existent needle in a haystack.

Re:Why is this hi-tech? (1)

richlv (778496) | about 2 years ago | (#42064897)

well, it sounds like various factors have different score assigned to them and then it just calculates the end result. reminds me of bayesian filters we all use against email spam...

Re:Why is this hi-tech? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064967)

That's right. And it's well known that Bayes' Theorem doesn't work when the incidence rate is lower than the false positive rate; because terrorists make up such a minute fraction of the total airline traffic, this is more or less guaranteed to occur.

The best case scenario is that they'll wind up with a system that correctly flags most of the terrorists as being terrorists, and falsely reports a huge number of innocent travelers as being terrorists. The worst case scenario is that they'll incorrectly flag most of the terrorists as being innocent, and falsely report a huge number of innocent travelers as being terrorists.

There are lots of (more or less) valid social reasons for opposing profiling, but I have yet to see a system of profiling that avoids the base rate fallacy. If we're really lucky, nobody will be foolish enough to actually use this system.

Re:Why is this hi-tech? (1)

richlv (778496) | about 2 years ago | (#42065023)

in this case they seem to have covered themselves. they don't say ZOMGIDENTIFYTERRIRIST - they just "assign a higher risk" :)
so it seems like a fairly simple solution, sold for a high price, not providing lots of value.

surely authors could claim that there's lot's of advanced logic, feeding in data like visiting which countries creates most risk etc, but... they are doing this after the plane has departed :)
this is not against "terrorists" as much as "we wouldn't want to admit this person in this country", i guess

Re:Why is this hi-tech? (1)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#42065029)

Yeah, 'cos those filters totally killed spam. It went down to zero overnight! Oh, wait...

Re:Why is this hi-tech? (1)

chthon (580889) | about 2 years ago | (#42065041)

Indeed.

But if one takes a look at Bayes' theorem and its implications, then it is necessary to take into account the possibility of false positives and negatives, i.e. saying about someone that he is a potential danger and it is not true, and letting someone true who is dangerous, but not flagged as such by the system.

I think that developing the software for this system is the least problem.

The big work is in obtaining a database about suspects and non-suspects, and then using this to flesh out the needed parameters and their probabilities to plug them into the rule of Bayes.

Re:Why is this hi-tech? (2)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 2 years ago | (#42065179)

Bayesian filters essentially learn by failure, not really something you want in this situation.

Is it called HAL? (1)

daem0n1x (748565) | about 2 years ago | (#42064893)

"I'm sorry Hassan, I can't let you take that plane"

Re:Is it called HAL? (1)

rvw (755107) | about 2 years ago | (#42065027)

"I'm sorry Hassan, I can't let you take that plane"

But to make it up a little, all your personal info is uploaded to the cloud, so imagine - you are safe here, and still you can fantasize about being up in the air somehow.

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the only risk (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064899)

are the people who invent this shit,
when you see oppressive tools you can be sure they have a UK or US flag on them

Slippery Slope (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064913)

Of course, it would also include all google search logs, facebook posts, private e-mail, and any other private information the government deems necessary to do a risk assessment. Perhaps not right away - but that is where all this is going.

Still the same profiling bullshit (3, Interesting)

daem0n1x (748565) | about 2 years ago | (#42064919)

Now seriously, ! I'm tired of seeing the same bullshit again and again, just with different icing, to justify what's flawed from the very start. This shows that people taking decisions are tied to their own irrationally feelings and not paying attention to what science tells them. [schneier.com]

I once read a scientific paper which recommends, if I remember correctly, randomly selecting 8% of the passengers for extended verification. This procedure has the advantage of transmitting zero information to the bad guys. If you start profiling, you give them a chance to test the system.

Re:Still the same profiling bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065135)

Reading a few comments like this... Not sure why the system can't involve selecting 8% at random as well as flagging people based off of certain criteria.

Re:Still the same profiling bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065237)

There is absolutely nothing which says you can't use a profiling system to pay closer attention to certain groups of people while ALSO randomly pulling X% regardless of their "risk" level.
Security is best in layers, something Bruce often says which people usually ignore.

Re:Still the same profiling bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065439)

So you don't think that the ones making this decision, are doing so because they aren't really interested securing the airports and flights?

That they might actually stand to benefit from the rare successful terrorist incident?

Because it seems to me that certain people benefitted hugely from 9/11, and might benefit again in the future.

However, actual effective airline screening would be a problem there.

This makes it easier for terrorists (4, Insightful)

dam.capsule.org (183256) | about 2 years ago | (#42064927)

They now just have to find somebody which would score as low risk and they won't have any trouble.

Re:This makes it easier for terrorists (1)

Hentes (2461350) | about 2 years ago | (#42065233)

How? It's already very hard for them to find idiots who would participate in a suicide bombing. Trying to find one among non-Muslim whites may be impossible.

Re:This makes it easier for terrorists (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | about 2 years ago | (#42065355)

Why would they be looking for Muslim non-whites? They're not terrorists. They'd be looking for Irish people.

Re:This makes it easier for terrorists (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065239)

PROTIP: Actual terrorists don't land!

The actual head* of Islamic terrorism [wikipedia.org] openly stated that his plan would be normal passenger planes with nuclear warheads**, which obviously would never "land" in the conventional sense. Let alone go through checkpoints.

But apparently, people love the whole story about terrorists walking through checkpoints, because that is what stopped 9/11. ...
(I'm being told I overloaded the sarcasmometer and it exploded. I'm sorry.)

___
* Yes, Bin Laden was more like the US president [or even the queen]: meaningless decoration to distract people.
** He has access to both, being the former head of Pakistani military intelligence, who built the Pakistani nukes in the first place.

This is going to cause major problems for some (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064959)

This is going to cause major problems for some and not do anything at all to reduce the "threat".

There have been an insufficient number of attacks to warrant doing anything at all let alone inconveniencing a ton of people. This is coming from someone who is a white male from the United States with an upper middle class income and living in an area of extreme stability (it isn't Detroit, Mormon country, or another city/area with security issues or fringe groups).

I had a choice between flying from an airport without any security measures and flying from one with these security measures I would certainly pick the one without. I bet there would be exactly zero people flying from air ports which implemented these measures too provided all things were equal (airports of equal distance, flights of equal cost, etc).

I could have worked for one of these outfits (4, Interesting)

pointyhat (2649443) | about 2 years ago | (#42064963)

A couple of years ago I went for an interview for one of these companies rather naively. Their product wasn't described as profiling, surveillance or monitoring but "adaptive security". After I finally cut through all the bullshit and worked out what they were actually selling, I bailed on it (with a proverbial "fuck you stasi bastards" and loss of the job agent). However I couldn't help noticing one thing:

The management staff were utterly convinced that this was the best way to go and that the entire world's problems were going to be solved by profiling in this way. I'm not talking about it being the marketing pitch, but actually some kind of crazy psychopathic paranoia about their own mortality in the hands of terrorists. I cannot fathom how these guys actually operate with this mindset at all. It was rather shocking actually and has permanently destroyed my acceptance of capitalism. It was literally like OCP or Weyland corporation were real for a few minutes.

Someone needs to legislate this out of existence because we're fucked if society ends up at the hands of nutjobs like them.

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (1)

digitig (1056110) | about 2 years ago | (#42065113)

Well, in practice it's completely untestable (you'd have to let a randomised selection of "high-risk" subjects into the country and see how many of them commit terrorist acts, and nobody is going to allow that), so the only remaining grounds for belief in the system are more or less religious. That doesn't make "some kind of crazy psychopathic paranoia" inevetable, but it makes it unsurprising.

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (2)

pointyhat (2649443) | about 2 years ago | (#42065485)

Yes. I can see the religious programming now:

"Looks like Bin Laden" - HRESULT_FULL_CAVITY_SEARCH

"Has hook instead of hand" - HRESULT_FULL_CAVITY_SEARCH

"Darker than a bag of flour" - HRESULT_FULL_CAVITY_SEARCH

"Has Koran instead of Bible" - HRESULT_FULL_CAVITY_SEARCH

"Has Casio F91-W watch" - HRESULT_STRAIGHT_TO_GITMO

CAPPS, CAPPS-2, No-fly lists, etc. (1)

girlinatrainingbra (2738457) | about 2 years ago | (#42065117)

Yep, it's also just like how "redlining" [wikipedia.org] for mortgage rates or for loan applications by banks was just a shadowy-sneaky way of putting race-based triggers into a fancy "computer expert decision system" so that the statistical correlations could be blamed: we're not charging them more because they're black: we're charging them more because they fit the criteria x+y+z which we happened to pick so that they select this particular category. Look up redlining.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Redlining [wikipedia.org]
.
It's the sameway that the airlines had to use to check passenger names with CAPPS [wikipedia.org] and CAPPS-2, the sequel. Look at http://www.aclu.org/national-security/problems-no-fly-list-show-problems-capps-ii-airline-profiling-system [aclu.org] to see "Problems With No-Fly List Show Problems With CAPPS II Airline Profiling System." Effectively, it's a sequel and another instance of CAPPS again. (Had to search for phonetic matching airline and nofly to find these references).

Re:CAPPS, CAPPS-2, No-fly lists, etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065301)

That's all bullshit. If 80% of the black population is under the poverty line and only 10% of the white population is also poor, then of course you're going to have a higher average loan rate amongst blacks than whites. The problem isn't the statistical correlation, it's the fact that there's an income disparity between races. The solution is not to give a bunch of poor people loans, it's to fix the income disparity. If 80% of blacks live in areas with a lot of vandalism and crime, and only 10% of whites live the same, then yes you'll see a higher insurance rate amongst blacks than whites. Not because the formulas are racist, but because there's a problem in society.
Or in other words, all "redlining" did was reveal problems in society, so quit blaming the methods and look to the real problem if you want to fix things.

Re:CAPPS, CAPPS-2, No-fly lists, etc. (2)

locofungus (179280) | about 2 years ago | (#42065529)

I think you're misunderstanding the problem.

A loan company might have two rates, one for higher risk people and one for lower rate people.

If 90% of black people are high risk for repaying a loan but 10% of white people are high risk for repaying a loan then it's simple for the loan company to charge black people the higher rate and white people the lower rate and their error rate will be relatively small.

But this is racial discrimination - the 10% of low risk black people are being discriminated against based on their colour and the 10% of high risk white people are being positively discriminated for as well.

Instead, the company needs to find tests that discriminate based on the risk of the person. If as a result, 10% of black people get the good rate and 10% of the white people don't then that isn't discrimination. All the tests will merely be proxies for what might happen but colour isn't allowed to be used as a proxy.

We've had a similar issue in the UK recently with insurance premiums. Motor insurance has been very heavily weighted for young drivers based on their sex - women get much lower rates.

Now, if young women tend to drive different cars to young men then the weighting the insurance company is likely to use based on type of car might, effectively, be a proxy for sex *but* a young man with an identical driving record to a young woman should be able to get the same premium for the same car.

In the UK you aren't *allowed* to *discriminate* based on colour or sex. For some things it's possible for people to "cheat" - if I only have one job then it's possible for me to discriminate but claim it's based on objective factors but when thousands of identical items are being sold, whether that is mortgages or insurance, it's pretty obvious if the discrimination is being done based on race or sex.

Tim.

Re:CAPPS, CAPPS-2, No-fly lists, etc. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065981)

You pretty much said the same things as the person you're replying to.

Wtf has capitalism got to do with it? (1, Interesting)

Viol8 (599362) | about 2 years ago | (#42065217)

"has permanently destroyed my acceptance of capitalism"

Since when did an economic model have any relevance on what security software a company is developing? You think the russians are just sitting around writing screensavers full of fluffy bunny rabbits?

"I bailed on it (with a proverbial "fuck you stasi bastards" "

Very mature.

Jeez, I've never read such a lot of lefty student tosh in all my life.

Re:Wtf has capitalism got to do with it? (1, Insightful)

pointyhat (2649443) | about 2 years ago | (#42065465)

In a capitalist society, a divide develops and society falls into those who control and those who are controlled. This software exists to enable and reinforce that divide by criminalising people.

Regarding maturity, do you find it unacceptable that someone should be principled and express that verbally? Sometimes "fuck you" is the best answer.

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#42065611)

I bailed on it (with a proverbial "fuck you stasi bastards" ...

And ironically demonstrating that you did not believe them to be like the stasi!

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (1)

pointyhat (2649443) | about 2 years ago | (#42065681)

Hardly. If you read about the Stasi, they were actually a self-perpetuating elite rather than state police. The moment you give anyone power, they devolve into an elite. It's an unfortunate part of human nature.

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#42065693)

Hardly. If you read about the Stasi, they were actually a self-perpetuating elite rather than state police. The moment you give anyone power, they devolve into an elite. It's an unfortunate part of human nature.

What I meant was that if you were ever interviewed by the real stasi you would have not said "fuck you stasi bastards" to them (unless you had already lost all hope!)

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (1)

pointyhat (2649443) | about 2 years ago | (#42065767)

Well not strictly true. I'm not sure the Western propaganda is "fit for purpose" and derives from the cold war paranoia. They did some horrible things (just like the US and UK governments for example and the whole perpetual state of war), but they were mostly quite reasonable apparently[1]. My father, an ex East German shouted much worse things than that at them in 1976 after pissing up the side of a Stasi vehicle and getting arrested. As a repeated offender, he was gently booted over the border to West Germany then to the UK and lived in relative comfort until I came along and ruined it for him! He's always bitter that they kept his television as it took him 5 years to save up for it.

[1] My comment towards the prospective employer was to rile them up about it rather than be factual.

Re:I could have worked for one of these outfits (1)

FooRat (182725) | about 2 years ago | (#42065797)

It was rather shocking actually and has permanently destroyed my acceptance of capitalism ... someone needs to legislate this out of existence because we're fucked if society ends up at the hands of nutjobs like them

A minor detail you probably failed to notice is that the primary demand for systems like this is driven by government-mandated legislation-driven compulsory security requirements. Society is already being controlled by nutjobs like them, they're called 'Congress'.

Old Wolf, new clothing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064965)

seems to be exactly what they were doing, just calling it something else with the hope of deflecting the expected racist focused backlash

Another fat contract (2)

opus_magnum (1688810) | about 2 years ago | (#42064981)

and zero accountability?
Sounds like a plan!

dragnet investigation = highly illegal (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42064999)

As far as I know, every civilized country considers such behavior to be not only highly illegal, but taboo according to its constitution.

Also, they know exactly, that actual dangerous terrorists would only "land" and go to "checkpoints" in the way that the 9/11 terrorists "landed" and went through "checkpoints".

OK, apart from the even more dangerous terrorists who already were allowed to come to the UK unchecked and try to sell these systems.

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Hocus-pocus Business (5, Insightful)

aaaaaaargh! (1150173) | about 2 years ago | (#42065105)

As someone who knows a little bit about multi-criteria decision making, risk analysis, probability theory and their friends (plausibility, possibility, fuzzy logics, etc.), I submit that these kinds of software programs are all just hocus-pocus and based on bullshitting customers.

How can I claim that without having seen the software? Simpe answer: The number of terrorist incidents is too low to establish significent correlations. The software is probably better at recognizing Pakistani cooks than at recognizing your next Breivik.

Re:Hocus-pocus Business (1)

stew77 (412272) | about 2 years ago | (#42065503)

I am no expert on machine learning, but isn't this whole approach flawed to begin with because we don't have enough terrorists? To verify your algorithms, you'd need sufficiently large training, validation and test sets, and I highly doubt that there are enough terrorists to build those sets.

Re:Hocus-pocus Business (1)

aaarrrgggh (9205) | about 2 years ago | (#42065709)

If you treat the problem as "crime" rather than "terrorism," you have a much deeper pool of knowledge and events to deal with.

However you still are stuck with two problems: there is very little correlation between criminal activity and the actions of someone wanting to cause problems on a plane; and standard police work does a piss-poor job of finding sociopaths.

I am of the school of thought that something can be done to improve the intelligence and efficiency of airport security to reduce risks of "bad stuff" to a viable level, even if the risks are increasing over time.

Re:Hocus-pocus Business (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065739)

i think melding people to put up with endless security and constantly giving up their freedoms is 'sufficiently large training' in the eyes of the purveyors.

Homeopathic Risk Profiling (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065667)

Agreed, the probability of you being a terrorist is so low that it's beyond any 'hocus pocus', it's well into homeopathy levels.

I prefer to the "Homeopathic Risk Profiling" because it has more to do with the placebo effect than actual security. Governments FEEL they've spent money on the matter, even though they've actually been sold a placebo and the money is wasted.

Re:Hocus-pocus Business (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065791)

I'd expand on this.

The software works by detecting outliers from normal behavior. The dataset to establish normal behavior is massive, while the dataset to establish abnormal behavior is minuscule. You'll end up with an insane rate of false positives and to tune the algorithm / model derived from the data, you'd have to tighten the criteria more and more.

However, since you're tuning on a scale between 'more false positives and less false negatives' and 'less false positives but more false negatives , the people in the bureaucracy in charge will switch into CYA mode, not wanting to be responsible for a possible failure, so you stick to your 20-40% false positive rates. In the security world, already established protocols are rarely changed because nobody wants to be the person responsible making that call.

Bottom Line: Someone is getting rich selling snake oil software that will not work and more people are subjected to statistic discrimination.

If it won't use race, religion, or country (1)

Chrisq (894406) | about 2 years ago | (#42065115)

If it won't use race, religion, or country then its a bit like asking someone to run a race without using their legs. When will people accept that a woman's institute member is a lot less likely to be a terrorist than someone who has just converted to Islam [wikipedia.org]

Re:If it won't use race, religion, or country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065321)

They don't want to admit that stereotypes often have some truth to them. They want you to believe that a black man has no more to fear at a White Power rally than he would at a Black Panther rally, for example.

Re:If it won't use race, religion, or country (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065973)

It's not that so much as the problem with your theory is that while a preponderance of terrorists are muslim, a much greater preponderance of muslims aren't terrorists. It would be like looking for people born in Naples by staking out Catholic churches in California.

Great idea! (5, Interesting)

anti-pop-frustration (814358) | about 2 years ago | (#42065159)

Additional information could include a combination of factors, like whether the passenger paid for their ticket in cash, or if they have ever been on a watch list

Great idea, that way anybody that has ever been put on a watch list can be harassed for ever! Not because a court of law determined they did anything wrong, no, but because they're on a list (or have been on one). You see, they probably did something wrong or else they wouldn't have been on that list in the first place...

Never mind the fact that this is all done in secret, with no judicial oversight, no accountability and no way to appeal those decisions and that people basically end up on those lists for exercising their political rights.

Try working as a journalist/filmmaker and reporting on the global war on terror, try actively opposing the US drone war or try supporting wikileaks (or any organization that the US has secretly decided they do not like) and see how quickly you end up on those watch lists.

Of course, you'll never know you're on one of those lists until the next time you try flying to the US, then you'll be detained and questioned (not to mention laptop seizure etc.). It happened many times to Jacob Appelbaum [wikipedia.org] , a Tor developer, it happened to Imran Khan [guardian.co.uk] , one of the most popular politician in Pakistan and it happened repeatedly to Laura Poitras [salon.com] , an Oscar-and Emmy-nominated filmmaker. These people are spied on and harassed because of their political opinions, thanks to the global surveillance state we now live in.

How submissive have we become that as people living in democracies we even accept the existence of "watchlists"?

Re:Great idea! (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#42065289)

..how does this thing even differ from a list? maybe it flags 5% of every flight as high risk.

Another UK disaster unfolds (1)

salparadyse (723684) | about 2 years ago | (#42065211)

Step 1 Fall for sales pitch from "big software outfit".

Step 2 Sack all human workers.

Step 3 Spend the following years sitting in Commons Select Committees explaining why the software couldn't possibly have foreseen the people that got in or that they would do what they subsequently did.

Step 4 Explain to indignant journalists why it is that Mr and Mrs Smith, born in the UK and resident there for 50 years, have been refused re-entry because "they fit the profile for troublemakers", whilst several dozen people, all claiming to be called Mohammed Khan, sail through unchallenged.

How's that going to work? (1)

mark-t (151149) | about 2 years ago | (#42065241)

If a disproportionately large percentage of all people in group X (where X is, say, 'terrorist risk') have some factor Y in common, (where Y is, say, a particular race, religion, or country of origin), to the point that there appears to be a statistical correlation, but an equally small percentage of people with factor Y in common actually could be delegated to group X, then those factors will balance eachother out, and the software can reasonably exclude factor Y from consideration. However, even if the software involved can consider numerous other factors than Y, the fact that there will still be enough of Y in common among people who are put into group X will still make it appear externally as if factor Y is actually being considered, and profiling based on factor Y will nonetheless still be assumed. It's unavoidable.

Alternative: make it a game (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065263)

#1 each screened passenger: win a bit of money
#2 each detected actual threat: win more money
#3 each false positive: lose some money
#4 each terrorist act by someone who went through screening: lose a lot of money
#5 system must generate at least a certain rate of positives

Have different companies operate different gates and assign bonus money according to ranking.

Why airplanes? (1)

stew77 (412272) | about 2 years ago | (#42065391)

What is it that makes everyone think that airplanes must become flying fortresses instead of just being as secure/dangerous as the rest of our lives already is? I can visit any government building, including courts and parliaments with less security theatre than I can board a plane. Nobody does a background check on you before you can walk in front of the white house. Nobody screens your luggage when you board a train, enter a subway station or stand in line at the museum.

The idea that there is something so special about airports and airplanes that nobody must be allowed to bring a container with more than 100ml of liquid in them is ridiculous.

Oh, 9/11 you say? Reinforced cockpit doors, handguns for pilots. Done.

Re:Why airplanes? (1)

k2r (255754) | about 2 years ago | (#42065795)

> What is it that makes everyone think that airplanes must become flying fortresses instead of
> just being as secure/dangerous as the rest of our lives already is?

Because people already are frightened because of flying itself and giving away control to the pilots/team/ground staff.

I'm curious whether frequent flyers are as impressed by the security theater as casual flyers. For myself I worry more about the taxi-driver to/from the airports

Re:Why airplanes? (1)

stew77 (412272) | about 2 years ago | (#42065831)

Most scary thing about air travel? The food.

*drumroll*

Re:Why airplanes? (1)

iamagloworm (816661) | about 2 years ago | (#42065925)

the point of security theatre is to give the impression that something is being done. this is important because there is a high level of dependence on air travel. if people are too afraid to use air travel because of potential threats it would mean airlines could not maintain their business model. from a government point of view, apart from having to bail out said airlines financially, there is also a business need to keep people flying so that global business may continue to expand limitlessly until the limit is hit.

Pointless Suggestions for modding down... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#42065409)

1 - Why don't you go back to the time when you spent a minimal amount of money on scanning passengers looking for a needle in a haystack, and instead concentrated on intelligence and infiltration of terrorist groups so that you can concentrate your resources?

2 - Why don't you realise that 'terrorists' (and there seem to be very few of them nowadays) aren't doing it because 'they hate our freedom' but because they're pissed off with some foreign activity we've undertaken? Rethinking some of the mad and pointless wars we've been starting would cut back on the terrorist threat AND improve the government's popularity with the 75% of the voters who aren't part of the military/arms production complex...

Is It Open Sourced? (2)

shawnhcorey (1315781) | about 2 years ago | (#42065697)

If not, it's an arbitrary decision. And it leaves their government opened to be sued.

A lot of people no security skills are cocky (1)

raymorris (2726007) | about 2 years ago | (#42065783)

I see a lot of contents from people who seem pretty sure of themselves, but clearly have no training or experience in security. Machine learning? That's nothing to do with it, humans can and do input the parameters. You think these criteria can't be effective? There are a number of characteristics which have been true of every single hijacker ever. The most obvious - it's politically to incorrect to notice that they are ALWAYS young males, every single time.

Re:A lot of people no security skills are cocky (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 2 years ago | (#42065895)

So you've eliminated half of travelers, since young males make up the largest single demographic that fly. Until you reduce that amount by a couple orders of magnitude, you haven't done anything effective.

No profiling? (1)

nomad-9 (1423689) | about 2 years ago | (#42065979)

"The company making the Risk-Profiling Software in question, of course, strongly denies that the software would single people out using factors like race, religion or country of origin. It says that the program works by feeding in data about passengers..."

...which singles people out using factors like race, religion or country of origin.

They can deny it as "strongly" as they want. How else would they get anything remotely relevant without resorting to racial or religious profiling? And would that be useful anyway? Is the hypothetical future "airline terrorist" a real problem, or more of an excuse to make money by Fear entrepreneurs and peddlers?
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