Another Example

Over a period of years, several commentators have documented that since airlines have started allowing passengers to print their boarding passes at home before leaving for the airport, boarding passes are easy to alter. Bruce Schneier documented the problem here in 2003 and Andy Bowers of Slate, documented it here in 2005.

But nothing was done about it. More recently, in an effort to focus more attention on the issue and get it fixed, Christopher Soghoian, a graduate student at Indiana University, set up a website that made it easy to forge a boarding pass for Northwest Airlines. (Boing Boing story is here.)

So do we fix the problem? No! Of course not!

Far from thanking Chris and calling for the security hole to be fixed, Congressman Edward Markey of Massachussets calls for the arrest the student. (Boing Boing story here.)

Hours later, the student was visited at home by FBI agents who ask him to take the website down. He complies. (Boing Boing story.)

Chris chose to spend that night somewhere other than his home. When he returned the next day, he found that his house had been ransacked and computers and other belongings removed. (Boing Boing story.)

The system is broken. Instead of addressing problems, it harasses the messenger.

It seems to me there are several problems with this:

  1. The problem doesn't get fixed.
  2. Innocent people trying to do the right thing and help out get punished.
  3. This "whack-a-mole" approach to problems is not scalable. What if two or three hundred geeks put up such websites? Would the FBI have the manpower to intimidate them all into silence?

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