On Friday I urged the Bush Administration to ”˜apprehend’ and shut down whoever had created a new website that enabled persons without a plane ticket to easily fake a boarding pass and use it to clear security, gain access to the boarding area and potentially to the cabin of a passenger plane. Subsequently I learned that the person responsible was a student at Indiana University, Christopher Soghoian, who intended no harm but, rather, intended to provide a public service by warning that this long-standing loophole could be easily exploited. The website has now apparently been shut down.
Under the circumstances, any legal consequences for this student must take into account his intent to perform a public service, to publicize a problem as a way of getting it fixed. He picked a lousy way of doing it, but he should not go to jail for his bad judgment. Better yet, the Department of Homeland Security should put him to work showing public officials how easily our security can be compromised.
It remains a fact that fake boarding passes can be easily created and the integration of terrorist watch lists with boarding security is still woefully inadequate. The best outcome of Mr. Soghoian’s ill-considered demonstration would be for the Department of Homeland Security to close these loopholes immediately.
Boing Boing quotes Avi Rubin saying Soghoian’s approach was a bad way to go about alerting people to the fact of no real security in Continental’s boarding passes (perhaps all airline boarding passes); Rubin called it “a real lapse in judgement [sic]“.
But there’s a huge problem here which isn’t being addressed by the comments thus far.
Rep. Markey has sufficient power in the US government to create a real problem for anyone by linking them to terrorism in the way he did Soghoian when he called for Soghoian’s arrest. The US government isn’t above holding people indefinitely, without charges, without representation, and torturing them. If we’re going to start challenging people’s speech on the basis of what might happen afterwards, I think Markey’s words and demonstrated US government behavior to date ought to weigh more heavily than someone possibly using a fake boarding pass to upgrade their seating from coach to first class (as Soghoian’s website suggested one could try doing with the website-generated boarding pass).