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500 show up to hear security guru
Seattle Times staff reporter
Since the disclosure last month that the government authorizes warrantless domestic spying, the water-cooler chats and classroom debates have raged over privacy and constitutional rights.
But Bruce Schneier, the security guru who has rock-star status among crypto-philes, offered another take on the matter to a crowd of more than 500 people at the American Civil Liberties Union convention at the University of Washington on Saturday: This computer-eavesdropping stuff doesn't really work.
"When you have computers in charge telling people what to do, you have bad security," said Schneier, who worked for the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1980s.
Schneier, who won't reveal what he did for the Defense Department other than to say it's related to communications and security, said the domestic-eavesdropping program relies on computers to pick up words such as "bomb," "kill" or "president" in conversations and flag the participating parties as potential suspects.
Last month, the Bush administration acknowledged authorizing the National Security Agency to intercept e-mails and phone calls without warrants in cases where one party is outside the United States.
"Technology is static," Schneier said. "It doesn't adapt. But people can adapt to whatever is going on," he said. "You are better off" hiring more FBI agents to gather intelligence.
The security is not worth the cost because the computers generate too many false alarms, Schneier said.
"Replacing people with technology hardly ever works."
With his thinning hair in a ponytail, Schneier looked more like a hippie than a cryptography expert whose books have gained cult status and whose appearances draw standing-room-only crowds.
Here to speak about the nation's concern with security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the 43-year old Minneapolis resident suggested everyone step back and realize "terrorist attacks are rare. They hardly ever happen."
"Security that requires us to guess right" is not worth the cost because there are too many potential targets, he said.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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