Personal security has taken a number of recent hits, most notably with the reports of recent hacking into the databases of Target, Home Depot and other national retailers. Financial institutions are finally concluding that the U.S. needs to start using chip-embedded credit cards to better protect their funds and identities.
On the heels of that, the iPhone 6 has been released with an encryption system that (supposedly) no government or agency can break, keeping anything stored therein private from prying eyes. On one hand, law enforcement agencies are complaining that this will only make their jobs more difficult. On the other, agencies are realizing this makes their operatives’ data better protected. And, of course, private individuals like the idea of being able to secure all of their data, allowing them to, as law enforcement puts it, “place themselves beyond the law.”
But as secrets become easier to keep, we run the risk of ne’er-do-wells attacking us more often, targeting our institutions, our money, and even our lives, using the same security measures we rely on. Does my need for privacy include allowing a terrorist an easier time destroying my plane? Is the collection of internet porn on my cellphone so important that we should also allow foreign agents to store their collection of bomb making manuals and list of suppliers on their cellphones? Do we have to allow people to keep whatever secrets they have, only to examine them within an inch of their lives every time they approach a public place?
The types of security checkpoints we Americans routinely see at public events are already considered by us as “invasive,” “annoying” and “inconvenient”… yet these minimal steps do virtually nothing to prevent those serious enough to smuggle contraband into a concert, or a home-made bomb into a convention center, from doing so if they really wanted to. In short, public security is but a panacea, allowing the public to fool itself into thinking it is safe.
So, are we destined to continue this blindfolded dance, until the day someone sets off a large explosive at a Mets game… or successfully sets off a shoe bomb on the next plane to Houston? Or the next time someone walks into a school, virtually unchallenged, and empties a few hundred rounds of ammo into our children?
And on the day, if it comes, when we say “enough is enough”… what will that mean? Will the entrance to every public space eventually look like an airlock with an MRI? Will we have police with bomb-sniffing dogs walking down every street? Will all of our phones have back-doors allowing the authorities to rifle our files at will?
Okay: All of the questions I’ve just posed have been posed before. They demand answers, either pro or con, based on our present understanding of security and security technology. But our present level and understanding of security is based on 20th century technology and practices. And as the last sentence implies, we should be looking for 21st century answers to these questions.
There are five areas of technological improvement that are poised to apply to modern security systems. The sooner we deploy them, the better off all of us will be:
- Deep Biometrics. Forget fingerprints and eyeball scans, and other easily-spoofed surface ID points. Scanners are now able to penetrate the human body and take 3D pictures, not only identifying patterns of veins and capillaries, for example, but scanning for motion and heat signatures to confirm that it is scanning living tissue. Anyone who saw I, Robot saw the use of deep palm-scans in action. Deep biometric scanning will provide unalterable, unspoofable ID for the 21st century.
- Improved Scanning Technology. Scanning companies are constantly developing and improving systems designed to penetrate barriers and detect illicit objects and materials in realtime. One of the most promising is a revised form of radar, using a finer radio pulse than is currently standard. This micro radio pulse can better see through objects and identify specific elements, shapes and compound collections. Already being put to use in military applications, micro-pulse radar will soon be available to deploy in any public space. In addition, applying more comprehensive filters to standard cameras, allowing them to see in a greater range of the electromagnetic spectrum, will permit monitors to detect threats more effectively and provide earlier warning.
- Drones. Drones are, at the moment, only known for being deployed at terrorists or potentially delivering pizza, beer or boxes from Amazon. In fact, this early application of drones has led to their incredibly bad rep with the public. But drones, equipped with quality monitoring technology and non-lethal defensive capabilities, could become welcoming eyes in the sky, monitoring public spaces for potential criminal activity, taking early action to identify and track individuals after a crime, and even assisting in stopping them. Applying drones to public space crime prevention would go a long way towards improving their rep domestically.
- Quantum Encryption. Scientists are developing encryption systems based around quantum-based random generation of massive numbers that can be easily decrypted with the right key, but virtually impossible to crack without it. These will provide a level of protection on encrypted systems that is a few orders of magnitude above what we have now.
- Artificial Intelligence. Believe it or not, intelligent machines will be the solution to everyone’s Big Brother concerns regarding who to let see our data. The current concern is that, if people are tasked with reviewing private data, those same people are quite obviously seeing that data, effectively compromising personal privacy. But advanced A.I. systems can be trained to review private data, recognize threats, and discard all other data deemed safe before any living person sees it. No human being is seeing your private stash of nude selfies or furries literature, or listening to your torrid affair over the phone—and no computer would care about such things—so your privacy is maintained. (This is the premise of the Machine featured in the TV series Person of Interest.)
These are the tools of our future security; and number five stands to be the biggest game-changer, effectively removing most of the privacy concerns that the public has over allowing access to their data. In my novel Sarcology, lack of an A.I. capable of reviewing and evaluating private data leads to a world of human-monitored security systems with less actual privacy, alongside decidedly low-security city zones where the desire for privacy forces citizens to give up security. We may not look forward to a high-surveillance future, but if we have to have one, at least an A.I.-based system that can review our data and provide security without compromising our personal privacy would clearly be preferable.
It goes without saying, of course, that any of these systems have the potential to be compromised by mis-handling. We can only make ourselves secure, and feel secure, if we undertake these steps carefully and properly, with appropriate diligence and overseeing of the process to ensure proper compliance with the spirit of the law. Any compromise to any part of these systems will leave us no better off than we are at this moment; in other words, either we do it right, or there’s no point to doing it at all.
I’m honestly curious: Would these measures work for you? Why or why not? What do you consider an acceptable level of security and safety?