Schneier on Security: Communications During Terrorist Attacks are Not Bad

In Communications During Terrorist Attacks are Not Bad, Bruce Schneier calls Twitter a “vital source of information” during the recent attacks in Mumbai.  But not everyone agrees, as there were reports that Indian authorities were trying to get people to stop posting information, apparently fearing that the terrorists would be able to use this information.  To that, Bruce says: 

This fear is exactly backwards. During a terrorist attack — during any crisis situation, actually — the one thing people can do is exchange information. It helps people, calms people, and actually reduces the thing the terrorists are trying to achieve: terror. Yes, there are specific movie-plot scenarios where certain public pronouncements might help the terrorists, but those are rare. I would much rather err on the side of more information, more openness, and more communication.

Schneier also includes a quote from David Stephenson in his post US officials must monitor, learn from use of Web 2.0 in Mumbai:

I can’t stress enough: people can and will use these devices and apps in a terrorist attack, so it is imperative that officials start telling us what kind of information would be relevant from Twitter, Flickr, etc. (and, BTW, what shouldn’t be spread: one Twitter user in Mumbai tweeted me that people were sending the exact location of people still in the hotels, and could tip off the terrorists) and that they begin to monitor these networks in disasters, terrorist attacks, etc.

The challenge, of course, is to get authorities to be able to monitor these tools in the event of disaster (man-made or natural) and yet resist the urge to turn it into yet another wholesale surveillance program.

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