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Poor Handling of False Positives by FBI

A false positive is a test result that indicates an affirmative response when the actual response is negative. It's also known as a Type I error (Wikipedia has an excellent write-up on Type I and II errors). False positives are problematic in information security because they can result in "the little boy who cried wolf" situations. Meaning, if you start seeing a bunch of alarms and they're always false alarms, you'll start ignoring the alarms. Thieves have been known to use this tactic to trick police or security guards into ignoring alarms so that they can then burglar successfully. In information security, we try to find ways to eliminate false positives, or at least develop methods of validating the data through an alternative method rather than accepting the false positive as accurate. If only the federal government understood the need and importance for doing this.

According to a post by Bruce Schneier, a man in Sweden was unhappy with his son-in-law, who was in the process of divorcing the man's daughter. This soon-to-be-ex-son-in-law was traveling to the US, against the wishes of his wife, which caused disgruntlement. To exact retribution, this older man in Sweden sent an email to the FBI accusing his soon-to-be-ex-son-in-law of being a terrorist, providing flight details and indicating that the son-in-law was en route to meet with his al Qaeda contacts.

Now, obviously this is a bad thing to do, and quite illegal and irresponsible. The man in Sweden has since admitted to his crime and will be punished. But the real crime is what happened when the son-in-law landed in Sweden. It seems that the FBI has no capability for sorting false information from real information. Their intelligence capability is apparently so faulty that they felt compelled to act decisively based on one anonymous tip from some yahoo in Sweden. They arrested and held the son-in-law for 11 hours, interrogating him, and then kicking him out the country, sending him home to Sweden.

The old man in Sweden lamented that he never thought that the FBI would believe him. Though not an excuse, frankly, I have to agree. What could possibly have made them believe that this was anything but a Type I error (false positive)? How could they have possibly assumed that this tip was valid and legitimate? How many other people have been arrested and interrogated based on unverified, invalid information?

If I were the son-in-law, I'd be considering charges of false imprisonment against the FBI. There's no discussion of whether or not he was provided with legal representation, though one would assume not.

Where does law enforcement get off playing the part of the thug? If we cannot trust law enforcement to act responsibly and reasonably, then we have a serious problem. The rule of law relies on the trustworthiness of those enforcing the law. When law enforcement begins acting unilaterally, as the White House has done all along, we then can no longer believe that they're working in our best interest.

Folks, we need to refuse to be terrorized, and, more importantly, we must hold those accountable who have abused their positions of power. We have hardened criminals running the country from the White House, openly embracing torture, justifying the means with the end, and flaunting the Constitution by consolidating power under the Executive Branch. Thankfully, the Judicial branch has begun working to restore some balance to the system, but the Legislative branch has been a blatant disappointment in this area. It's extremely disheartening that the Democrats elected to office to fight against the tyranny of the GOP have failed to make any progress whatsoever. Given, the GOP has been extremely effective at blocking legislation, but what has happened that the GOP can be circling the wagons so tightly, holding their lines against all odds? Something is not right here.

As such, it is our responsibility to assert our will as The People and take this country back. If it means marching on Washington, then so be it. Someone has to get the message across that warmongering, presumption of guilt, torture, guilt by association, and unilateral actions will not be tolerated. The actions of the federal government no long appear to be in the best interest of the constituency. Why, then, do we allow it to continue down this path? Changes must be made, and soon.

Stand up for your rights - while you still have them!


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