Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Illusion of Security

America has a security problem, but it isn't the one we hear about on the news. It's a pretty serious one in my book, and it is one that impacts all of us. It's also a bit of a strange problem.

We're safe, you see. We really are pretty safe. We are also afraid, and react out of that fear in strange, often bad ways.

So obviously, 9/11 is going to be a big part of the background for this one, because it really lead to a lot of where we are today. I feel like I should do the token "inspirational monologue" about it, but that's not the point here, and I think we all realize nothing I am going to say really matters on that front. Let's just say it was a really bad day that has had widespread effects on the world, and move from there.

After the attacks, a lot of things changed fairly quickly. The PATRIOT act was brought to the house and passed before most of congress was even given a chance to read it. Almost immediately this was a controversial law that had a pretty profound impact on American discourse. You had a lot of people throwing around a lot of quotes from a lot of people about the relationships between security, privacy, freedom and my favorite, the old "If you aren't doing anything wrong, you don't have anything to hide." The emotional state of this country got, understandably, a little nuts.

Another big change was the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). We had this grand plan of opening up communication between our various security agencies and trying to streamline intelligence. This hasn't really worked the way we hoped. There are also the many many problems with the TSA. Along with the low success rate with internal testing, we are seeing lots of privacy and safety concerns with their newest line of defense, the backscatter scans.

And some of these concerns are due to the very agents who are implementing these security protocols. The supposed last line of defense. If the entire intelligence community fails to catch them before making it to where they can hurt us, then we obviously want the best and the brightest there to catch the bad guys. Of course, all of this is rendered a little silly when you look at the fact that here in the U.S. you have almost no chance of being killed by a terrorist anyway.

When did America get so scared? We used to be the big bad superpower that would shake the world from time to time, and now we're hiding behind ineffective security that makes us feel "safer" without really doing much good.

Humans, in general, are really not very good at dealing with probability. When it comes to risk assessment from an evolutionary standpoint, all this fear makes a lot of sense. We are fairly easily eaten. But when we move this same instinct to the modern world, well, it just makes us a little nuts. We are afraid of being murdered, even though violent crime is on the decline. We are afraid of our children being kidnapped so we shelter them, even though statistically it really isn't a likely event.

And the problem with all of this is that we use these fears as excuses for all kinds of terrible things. We give away our rights in order to protect ourselves. We give up privacy and safety to get a false sense of security. We have militarized our police forces, giving them a new mindset along with new weapons and tools.

I pretty clearly think this is a bad thing, however I'm not suggesting that the response to any of this should be anger. Anger is even less rational an emotion than fear, and I'm all about rational. What we need to do is recognize our own emotional responses, and then think through it. What we need to do is stand up, calmly and rationally, and say "no... it's ok... we're not afraid, and we don't want this."

Send well thought out and calm letters to your congress folks. Go to city counsel and talk to them. Get involved and get things done.

But most of all, keep calm and carry on.

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