thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Monday, February 23, 2009

Trusted Traveller or Trusted Bar-Crawler?

The Wired national security blog "Danger Room" was celebrating its 2nd birthday on the weekend with a party at a bar in Washington DC. I was going there with a few friends and colleagues, and we had our share of fun. Unfortunately, one of my Canadian friends had trouble getting in: The bouncer would not accept his "trusted traveller" card, which is issued by the U.S. Government's Department of Homeland Security. It was only after a we convinced him that a national security party is the worst place to prevent someone with a DHS-issued ID from entering that my friend finally could join us. My friend clearly looks older than 21, needless to say.

Except for the fun we made of this afterwards, as a thought-experiment this was an interesting experience in identity and risk management. You could say that the bouncer's calculus seemed to be: Not everybody who is a certified non-terrorist is also a reliable and nice company at a bar. This is a clear and sensible separation of roles. But on the other hand: Why should a random 21-year-old with a state-issued driving license be a more reliable beer drinker?

Of course, the main problems were: The bouncer had not even heard of this trusted traveller program before, and he just checked the IDs of anybody who wanted to enter, no matter how clearly he looked over 21. This is what annoys me most, I guess: That people only follow dumb procedures without any idea of common sense. That certainly will not bring greater overall security, it will just cover the bouncer's ass.


Anonymous Jeff Porten said...

Actually, in DC it's even worse than that. The law states that the bouncer broke the law by allowing your friend into the bar, even if no actual alcohol laws were broken. The important thing is not whether you're 21 or over, the important thing is whether you are carrying state-sanctioned ID.

If not, the bar can lose its liquor license and be closed down, even if all of its patrons are in their 40s and drinking Perrier.

26/3/09 03:51


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