Post-Sept. 11 security measures seen doing more harm than good

Erosion of democratic freedoms primary result of new rules

Many of the security measures put in place after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks are doing more harm than good, said two speakers scheduled to present at the Hack In The Box Security Conference (HITB) this week.

The effect of many security measures put in place by governments after Sept. 11 has been to strengthen control over their citizens and erode democratic freedoms, said Roberto Preatoni, a security consultant who works in Italy. "The Internet allows you to do more effective things regarding controlling the population," he said.

"Before, we were just being spied on," said Fabio Ghioni, vice president and security chief technology officer at Telecom Italia SpA. Now, governments are using psychological operations and technology to prey upon their citizens' fears and extend their own power, he said.

"Technology makes it easier for us to be brainwashed, make us accept less and less freedom," Ghioni said.

In some cases, the technology measures put in place by governments may put citizens at greater risk of attack from terrorists, Preatoni said. As an example, he cited a recent demonstration of how a radio frequency identification (RFID) passport system being proposed by the U.S. State Department could be used by terrorists to construct a bomb designed to target U.S. citizens.

In that demonstration, Los Angeles-based Flexilis Inc. showed how an RFID passport that was left slightly open could be used to trigger a bomb equipped with an RFID reader. Flexilis proposed modifications to the design of the RFID passport that prevent this from happening. (A video of the demonstration can be viewed online at YouTube.)

Faced with the fear of terrorist attacks, the U.S. and Europe have been quick to give up freedoms in exchange for promises of protection from their governments, Ghioni said. In some cases, such as with the U.S.A. Patriot Act, the provisions and implications of these protective measures are not adequately explained by governments or understood by their citizens, he said.

Ghioni also questioned the scale of measures taken in recent years to respond to terrorism, noting that Europe has long faced the threat of attacks from groups such as the Red Brigade and the Irish Republican Army. "Look at the statistics. How many people in the West died of terrorism? How many people die from car accidents?" he asked.

HITB, being held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, runs through Thursday, Sept. 21.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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