Knowing a few people with security clearances, I’ve heard a bit about the oft-proposed idea to allow folks holding such clearances to avoid the screening mess at domestic airports. It’s always sounded like a fine idea to me… that is, it sounded like a good idea until I read today’s column by Bruce Schneier on what a bad idea it would be. And the thing is, he’s totally right — in order to fulfill this goal, the government would have to:

  • create an easily-portable ID that identified people with formal, government-sponsored security clearances;
  • set up a centralized database with records of all these people (something which, for a variety of reasons, doesn’t already exist);
  • implement methods through which security screeners could check an ID to make sure that the clearance is both valid and current;
  • train TSA screeners on how to do handle the new system and procedures.

In Schneier’s own words:

This issue is no different than searching airplane pilots, something that regularly elicits howls of laughter among amateur security watchers. What they don’t realize is that the issue is not whether we should trust pilots, airplane maintenance technicians or people with clearances. The issue is whether we should trust people who are dressed as pilots, wear airplane-maintenance-tech IDs or claim to have clearances.