Security Has to Make Sense

 
 
By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-11-26 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Perhaps the worst thing about the post-Sept. 11 environment is the abandonment of cost-benefit analysis, or any analysis at all, in the rush to prove that one has taken every possible precaution.

Perhaps the worst thing about the post-Sept. 11 environment is the abandonment of cost-benefit analysis, or any analysis at all, in the rush to prove that one has taken every possible precaution. The result reminds me of descriptions of the Prohibition era: The rules become the problem, and people begin to sneer at both the rules and at those who bother to obey them.

At Los Angeles airport, for example, private cars were barred—unless they carried "handicapped" placards. This is a case of reasoning in only one direction: "We have to ban cars! Make people use shuttle buses!" "But what about people in wheelchairs?" "OK, let the handicapped cars come in."

Reasoning backward, one realizes that stealing a handicapped placard is so easy that this modified measure accomplishes practically nothing. Security measures have to be more robust to hold peoples respect.

Reasoning in just one direction is also a good way to lose at chess: "Ill move here, then hell move there, then Ill have him." One easily forgets that the opponent is not participating in your plan, but making and pursuing his own.

The opponent may not be limited to your ideas of what is a weapon. At Comdex, I was not allowed to enter a keynote theater with a pocketknife. Never mind that the stated policy banned cameras, laptop computers, bags of all kinds, but not knives. The security guard put his hands on his hips and grumped, "Well, you should have known!" My Rotring pen, however, a forged metal shaft that is three times as long as my knife blade, was acceptable. If you and I were to fight a duel and I had choice of weapons, I would give you the knife and keep the pen any day.

If institutions want support for their increased security measures, those measures have to stand up to common-sense scrutiny; they have to be communicated clearly and enforced consistently and courteously. Otherwise, youll have a much bigger problem than when only the terrorists dislike you.

Tell me whats keeping you "safe" at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com.

 
 
 
 
Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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