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Liars and Outliers Bruce Schneier: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive by Bruce Schneier

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Chapter 10

Security Systems

Security systems are all around us, filling in the gaps where moral, reputational, and institutional pressures aren't effective enough. They include the door locks and burglar alarms in our homes, the anti-counterfeiting technologies in major world currencies, and the system of registering handguns and taking ballistic prints. They can be high-tech, like automatic face recognition systems, or low-tech, like defensive berms and castle walls. They don't even have to be physical systems; they can be procedural systems like neighborhood watches, customs interviews, and police pat-downs.

Theft of hotel towels isn't high in the hierarchy of world problems, but it can be expensive for hotels. Moral prohibitions against stealing prevent most people from stealing towels. Many hotels put their name or logo on their towels. That works as a reputational pressure system; most people don't want their friends to see obviously stolen hotel towels in their bathrooms. Sometimes, though, this has the opposite effect: making towels souvenirs of the hotel and more desirable to steal. It's against the law to steal hotel towels, of course, but with the exception of large-scale thefts, the crime will never be prosecuted.1 The result is that the scope of defection is higher than hotels want. And large, fluffy towels from better hotels are expensive to replace.

The only thing left for hotels to do is take security into their own hands. One system that has become increasingly ...

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