Below is a slightly augmented (with links) version of a post I sent to Dave Farber’s Interesting People list in response to a request by another poster for what should government do regarding plots like the one recently foiled regarding infiltrating planes in the UK to attack the U.S.; the poster asked:
Now that the maniacs have our full attention, I’ll ask once more the question I’ve asked before:
What should a government do? How far should it go, to surveil, arrest and interrogate the sort of people who’d plan something like this? It’s all very well to complain of governmental threats to our liberty; indeed, such complaints are a vital part of that liberty, so keep ’em coming. But at some point, somebody’s got to decide what we will do against these disgusting, murderous fanatics.
And so the question: To foil plots like these, what would IPers do?
A very interesting question on news from the UK, Hiawatha Bray, 10 August 2006.
Well, for one thing, IPers can continue to discourage use of methods that have little promise of working, such as blanket scans of all telephone numbers or electronic mail, which just increase the haystack without making finding the needle more likely, or national ID cards such as the British government has been pushing lately.
And for another, IPers can continue to discourage irrational language like "maniacs". What characterizes plots like the one just reportedly foiled (I say "reportedly" because I haven’t seen any details yet) and 9/11 and the Madrid bombings and the Bali bombings, etc., is methodical attention to a longterm plan. This is not the hallmark of maniacs, i.e., this was not done by insane or wildly disorganized persons. Looking for maniacs is a waste of time, money, and quite possibly lives. You don’t catch a murderous criminal gang by assuming they’re insane, and it’s unlikely you’ll catch murderous terrorists by assuming they’re insane. Using inflamatory rhetoric such as "maniacs" can further erode civil liberties while doing nothing to help protect time, money, or lives.
As to what could IPers encourage, how about more Arabic and Farsi-speaking intelligence people, more intelligence and law enforcement agents who understand the cultures that are producing the terrorists and what their grievances are; maybe even agents who can infiltrate them. More interaction with communities such as the British government botched in the past year after the British Muslim community came to the government offering to help: http://www.economist.com/world/britain/displaystory.cfm?story_id=7141669
Maybe we could even encourage accountability for the government ministers who botched that. Maybe even similar accountability for similar botches in other countries; maybe even in the U.S.
How about more attention to developing real Internet security measures. Two-factor authentication shows some promise; it’s got its own problems already, but maybe IPers can help. I’m sure other IPers can think of many other possibilities.
Liability for software vendors that ship widely exploited known bugs and misfeatures would be another good step. Even the possibility of such government-imposed liability could be useful in getting such vendors to clean up their acts.
Oh, and encouraging software diversity before the terrorists use the existing monopolies to break the Internet in the same way they just bashed the airlines; except worse, because the airlines are much more diverse than the Internet monocultures.
We can try to educate people and especially law enforcement that not wanting to tell everything doesn’t mean we have something to hide.
"If one would give me six lines written by the hand of the most honest man, I would find something in them to have him hanged."
–Cardinal Richelieu, via Bruce Schneier
We can try to get intelligence agents and law enforcement to be sufficiently trustable that the public and companies will tell them things that are actually relevant. The FBI’s Infragard program is an example of how this can work.
And how about encouraging governments to do something about the circumstances that breed terrorists, such as encouraging civil liberties in the countries they come from: http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?chanID=sa006&articleID=0006A854-E67F-13A1-A67F83414B7F0104&pageNumber=2&catID=2
We could even encourage getting the world off of oil, which is what some of the least free terrorist-producing governments use to prop up their regimes. Plug and play internetworking of widely distributed and diverse energy sources would do a lot to get rid of centralized oil fields as global trouble spots. Hm, that sounds a lot like networking….
Now a word from an early networking expert, the man who started the American colonial postal service, who had a string of printing shops and newspapers up and down the Atlantic coast, and who even started his own printing press and publications in France when he was there convincing the enemy of his enemy to be his friend:
Those who would give up Essential Liberty
to purchase a little Temporary Safety,
deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.
–Benjamin Franklin, An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania, 1759
Old Ben was neither a pacifist nor a foe of government. He organized Pennsylvania to fight the French and Indians; he eventually encouraged and participated in open revolt against the greatest empire on earth; a revolt in which much greater proportional loss of life was inflicted than today, and in which about a third of the continentual population was actively on the side of the enemy. Yet he and his compatriots insisted on liberty as essential. Why should we do less?