Your fear is violating my civil rights

June 7th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

Three months ago the TSA announced they were going to start allowing small knives back on airplanes. As someone who has lost two key chain knives to the TSA I was thrilled. As someone who has long hated the security theater that the agency provides I was honestly dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe that someone actually had the balls to rollback one of the many stupid rules that give us a false sense of security. My joy was short-lived. Faced with pressure from flight attendants and legislators the TSA re-banned small knives. *Facepalm*

I understand why though. Who is going to remember the person that makes our lives easier by paring back security? Who is going to be crucified the first time a flight attendant gets cut by some drunk asshole? The political calculus is simple and it’s depressing. Enter the NSA’s PRISM project. In news that surprised nobody it turns out the NSA is keeping track of who we are calling. And by “we” I mean every man, woman and child in the country and then some to be sure. The lack of surprise makes it all the more appalling.

So who do we blame? We can’t really blame Obama because he simply did the same thing that any other viable presidential candidate would have done. At least he got a warrant.

Blaming the Obama Administration for permitting the NSA to request this type of information is like blaming a dog for eating the steak you left on the counter while you were at work. Maybe the perfect dog wouldn’t do that. Maybe. You really should have seen that one coming.

The PATRIOT Act is a tool often used to violate our civil liberties but you can’t really blame the tool. In reality it’s our own irrational fear of terrorism that has brought us here. When three people die in a bombing we call it a national tragedy and congress launches hearings to find out how on earth we failed to stop two morons from building a bomb out of fireworks. Spoiler alert, it’s impossible. If we can’t even figure out how to stop our kids from shooting each other in school, how the hell are we going to stop the Tsarnaev brothers?

When nineteen fundamentalists with box cutters can paralyzed our country with fear something is wrong. The 9/11 terrorists killed 3,000 people and we started two wars, killed hundreds of thousands, spent trillions of dollars, created a giant government agency and made air travel a living hell. Yet 30,000 Americans are killed by gunfire at home every year and it’s par for the course. Something is wrong.

Inner demons

There is an adage that I try to live my life by when it comes to fear.

If it makes the evening news, you probably don’t have to worry about it.

Namely if something happens that is interesting enough to garner national news coverage then it is almost certainly a rare and isolated occurrence. If we can, as a society, accept this reality then I believe we will be able to start making meaningful change. We can make the world safer for our children but we aren’t going to do it by confiscating bottles of water and collecting massive amounts of private data.

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TSA : A game of cat and mice [sic]

December 31st, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

Whenever I think of the TSA security theater at our airports I’m reminded of the cable black boxes of the 90’s. The cable companies spent years and who knows how many millions of dollars developing and then building these trucks that could drive around neighborhoods and detect if you were using a black box to “steal” content. They announced their new program with lots of fanfare and self congratulations. Two weeks later the internet had come up with a $5 part you could stick to the end of your cable box and thwart this multi-million dollar program.

The attitude of the TSA is equally as myopic. They seem to think that they can solve their security issue by creating gadgets to stick in the hands of low-paid workers. When up against the might of distributed intelligence, though, these gadgets are all but destined to fail. In the case of the TSA they will fail catastrophically. While those battling piracy like the RIAA have the difficult task of trying to persuade millions of people to change their behavior, they can focus on making a few high profile examples to try and discourage the masses. Catch a few mice and hang them high for all the others to see and fear. While it may be an ultimately futile endeavor the consequences of failure are not life and death. If some or even most mice get past it’s merely a matter of lost revenue.

The TSA is fighting a battle of similar proportions but with vastly different consequences. It only takes one mouse to get past their poorly trained but well equipped cat for the mice to win. Hundreds will die and despite the fact that more people will die on American roads in a week it will have a near paralytic effect on the American psyche. Yet instead of re-evaluating their tactics, instead of taking a long hard look at how and why they failed so catastrophically, they will respond with more of the same.

Where does it end?

We are not living in a police state, but the TSA represents a police state mechanism that is steadily being ratcheted up. It’s almost a trite quote but I must invoke Ben Franklin here.

He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.

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