Protecting Them, Not You

The last 10 years have seen many laws enacted in the name of security, but they are meant to protect the lawmakers, not you.

There is a disturbing trend in politics and lawmaking that has developed over the last 10 years – one which I think everyone really needs to take a long, hard look at.

Over the last 10 years there’s been a lot of noise made over “security” and “protecting” and the like. But if you look more closely at what has actually been done, you’ll see that largely the laws, policies, wars, agencies, etc., that have been put into place are not actually here to protect you.

Instead, these things which have been done in the name of “security” actually have a quite different aim – they are designed explicitly to protect the people who came up with the law/policy/etc., not the “people” at large. Instead, you are simply meant to feel secure, without actually being secure.

I like to call this sort of thing “CYA syndrome,” or “cover your ass syndrome.” Because that’s really all it is.

Let’s take a look at some of the many, many things that have been done in the last 10 years:

Creation of the Department of Homeland Security

  • Supposed to: unify departments to increase information sharing so important information about legitimate threats are not missed
  • Actually: creates a huge bureaucratic monstrosity that is less responsive than the previous individual agencies.

War in Iraq

  • Supposed to: remove a highly dangerous dictator and get rid of a hiding place for terrorists
  • Actually: removed a not-quite-as-dangerous dictator and created more hiding places for terrorists (and inspired many more people to become terrorists because of resentment)

REAL ID Act

  • Supposed to: unify ID requirements across the country and make it impossible for anyone (not just terrorists) to get a fake ID, thus stopping them from ever being able to get on a plane, into a government building, etc.
  • Actually: unified ID requirements across some of the country, at huge cost to the states themselves, made the whole process much, much more annoying and difficult for the 99.999% of normal people, did not stop people from getting on planes with nefarious intentions.

Increased Airport Security

  • Supposed to: prevent another 9/11
  • Actually: hassles the traveling public via scope creep (always adding more restrictions based on the last failed attempt, even if it had absolutely nothing to do with 9/11)

All of these things are not so much to achieve a goal in and of themselves (if they even can), but rather to give those in power something to point to in case everything goes wrong. “We did this,” they’ll say, “so you can’t blame me.” Or, alternatively, before anything has gone wrong, those in power can point at these things and say “see? I’m tough, I’m doing things.” This is related to something called the “politician’s fallacy,” which says:

  1. Something must be done.
  2. This is something.
  3. Therefore, we must do it.

This of course results in poorly thought out solutions for urgent problems – sound familiar?

But there’s no incentive to properly think out solutions for these kinds of problems. Fast answers and swift action are all that matter in our short-attention-span world; nevermind that they are often wrong or contrary to our long-term success.

What is particularly infuriating about this is that nobody* seems to realize that this is going on.

As we come up on the anniversary of 9/11, I hope that everyone will step back and take a good, long, hard look at what’s been going on these past years – because we’re way past due for one. We’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes for far too long.

* Well, a sufficient majority, anyway.

We Don’t Know How to Handle Terrorism

Found this very insightful quote over on Slashdot, and I couldn’t agree more:

“Countries like the UK and Israel have experience with terrorism, and they’ve developed reasonably sane ways of handling it. Just to be clear, I’m not praising the fact that they stole land from the Irish and the Palestinians — but at least they don’t act like total idiots when someone sets off a bomb. The US, on the other hand, responded to 9/11 by running around like a chicken with its head cut off. We shot ourselves in the foot in ways that were far worse than any of the damage done by the 9/11 hijackers, including two wars and an all-out assault on our own civil liberties. Compared to that kind of national self-mutilation, I can’t really take it too seriously when I’m not allowed to bring a full-size shampoo bottle on an airplane — but it certainly is an example of the same idiocy, just on a smaller scale.”

As elections are coming up here in the US again soon, it’s worth remembering things like this and keeping it in mind when you are choosing who gets your vote.

The Fear Disease

Looking at the increasing level of fear which has crept into both the American populace and American politics over the years since 9/11.

This article, Terrorism Derangement Syndrome, hits a lot of good points. In particular, it talks about how what we once saw as a “reasonable response” to terrorism right after 9/11 is now seen as “too weak.” It seems like we just keep getting more and more afraid:

It’s hard to explain why this keeps happening. There hasn’t been a successful terror attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. The terrorists who were tried in criminal proceedings since 9/11 are rotting in jail. The Christmas Day terror attack was both amateurish and unsuccessful. The Christmas bomber is evidently cooperating with intelligence officials without the need to resort to thumbscrews. In a rational universe, one might conclude that all this is actually good news. But in the Republican crazy-place, there is no good news. There’s only good luck. Tick tock. And the longer they are lucky, the more terrified Americans have become.

Some of this can be explained as simple one-upmanship; when your political platform is “fighting terrorism,” each time you run for re-election you kind of have to vow to “do more” than you did last time (or more than your opponent did), which leads to “more security” and “tougher stances” and so forth.

The problem is that the American public is going along with this. That’s what really worries me. It’s like the whole country is infected with some sort of “fear disease:”

We’re terrified when a terror attack happens, and we’re also terrified when it’s thwarted. We’re terrified when we give terrorists trials, and we’re terrified when we warehouse them at Guantanamo without trials. If a terrorist cooperates without being tortured we complain about how much more he would have cooperated if he hadn’t been read his rights. No matter how tough we’ve been on terror, we will never feel safe enough to ask for fewer safeguards.

You may agree or disagree with his policies, but you can’t argue with the truth in what Franklin D. Roosevelt said during his inaugural speech: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

I think it’s time and past time we all remembered that.

Dear TSA: An Idea for Full-Body Scanners

An open letter to the TSA: wouldn’t it be nice to just replace all the security nonsense with one quick & easy full-body scan?

RE: Full Body Scanners

Dear TSA:

I can’t help but notice that you’ve somehow got it into your head that we need full-body scanners now at every US airport. Well, I have a suggestion for you while you’re at it: instead of adding full-body scanners on top of everything else you’ve got to delay me while trying to get to my plane, why don’t you replace all the x-ray machines and other nonsense with just the one single (and hopefully, quick!) full-body scanner?

Think about it: you wouldn’t have to ask people to take off their shoes, unpack laptops from their bags, empty spare change from their pockets, remove belts, take of scarves, and so forth. Just the one scanner could scan EVERYTHING on the person. Just a few seconds, and BAM! you’re done. How nice would that be?

Of course, this idea hinges on the full-body scanner actually being useful for scanning people. If, on the other hand, it is just a huge, expensive, time-wasting machine to check for explosives in people’s underwear, then I have to tell you, respectfully, that this is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. So just knock it off already.

But if it works, and if you could replace all the other nonsense at security checkpoints in airports with one quick, fast, non-invasive scan, then by all means, go ahead!

Just a thought – but one I hope you guys take seriously!

Dear TSA: Stop Keeping Secrets

An open letter to the TSA asking them to stop being so secretive – because it’s not helping anybody.

Dear TSA:

It’s time and past time for you guys to stop “declining to say” when asked anything about the insane so-called “security” procedures or tools you’ve put into place.

I know most of your top brass are probably still in the mentality of the cold war, but trust me guys – it doesn’t matter whether you keep the design of your x-ray machines or body scanners or neutron detectors or whatever secret, or whether you put up huge billboards of their internal schematics in Afghanistan.

I’m not being facetious here either – it really doesn’t matter. If the security systems you have put in place are truly well-designed and well-thought-out, then they will work regardless of whether their internal workings is common knowledge or not.

And, since we are still (the last time I checked) a free country (as we like to proclaim ever more loudly, while at the same time we become less and less free), your default reply should ALWAYS be to be totally up-front about security and to provide any details that anyone asks about the internal workings of things.

If you were SERIOUS about security – real security, not just “pretend” security that only serves to “cover your ass” in case something bad happens – you’d welcome the feedback and massive talent pool that being in the public eye could give.

Just a thought, from a concerned citizen.