Amateurism vs. Expertise

Two items from Bruce Schneier’s 5/15 Crypto-Gram merit side-by-side attention. First Schneier links to 7 Signs of Terrorism, a video prepared by the Michigan State Police intended to “train” citizens to recognize terrorist activity in the planning stages and report it to the police. A person using binoculars or writing notes on a map could be involved in surveillance, so report him to the police. A person asking questions about bridge, school, power plant–or anything–could be involved in elicitation, so report him to the police. A suspicious person who “doesn’t belong” could be a terrorist, so report him to the police. Finishing the video one asks why the Michigan State Police are encouraging tips based on uninformed hunches from amateurs. Then, in a post titled Recognizing “Hinky” vs. Citizen Informants, Schneier explains why encouraging “people to contact the authorities every time they see something suspicious [will] waste our time chasing false alarms: foreigners whose customs are different, people who are disliked by someone, and so on . . . The key difference is expertise. People trained to be alert for something hinky will do much better than any profiler, but people who have no idea what to look for will do no better than random.” Schneier’s examples and responses to comments flesh out his argument well.

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