Over on her blog, Jen Klyse is telling an interesting story of her experiences with airline security blacklists — lists of people who, for reasons that aren’t disclosed, are automatically singled out for special scrutiny when they travel. Apparently she’s not on the “A list” of people who are actually denied boarding, since they do let her on eventually, but someone is apparently keeping an eye on her all the same.
This is what’s scary about the way we’re approaching transportation security — the sheer opacity of the system. Certainly if you fit a profile of a potential threat, or if you have a record of association with such people, you should expect some additional scrutiny; it only makes sense. But because what it takes to get on the list is a secret, ANYONE can be put on it; you can hardly argue that you don’t fit a profile if nobody will tell you what the profile is. And because the list is itself a secret, you can’t get yourself taken off it (“List? What list?”) even if you can prove your loyalty.
There’s a saying in computer science that the worst kind of security is “security through obscurity” — for example, putting sensitive corporate data on a “secret” Web page and expecting it to be safe because you haven’t given anyone the URL. All it takes is one run of Google’s Web indexing software to show you how foolish that is. In government, security through obscurity is even worse because it invites abuse by those who would like to augment their power or strike out against those they disagree with, or just plain dislike. If Klyse and Salon are right, and there is such a list, the government should cough it up and give her an opportunity to defend herself. It’s only fair.