In his latest op-ed, Slouching toward Big Brother, Bruce Schneier asks the questions our politicians and media OUGHT to be asking.
Security is a trade-off. It makes no sense to ask whether a particular security system is effective or not–otherwise you’d all be wearing bulletproof vests and staying immured in your home. The proper question to ask is whether the trade-off is worth it. Is the level of security gained worth the costs, whether in money, in liberties, in privacy or in convenience?
This can be a personal decision, and one greatly influenced by the situation. For most of us, bulletproof vests are not worth the cost and inconvenience. For some of us, home burglar alarm systems are. And most of us lock our doors at night.
Terrorism is no different. We need to weigh each security countermeasure. Is the additional security against the risks worth the costs? Are there smarter things we can be spending our money on? How does the risk of terrorism compare with the risks in other aspects of our lives: automobile accidents, domestic violence, industrial pollution, and so on? Are there costs that are just too expensive for us to bear?
Unfortunately, it’s rare to hear this level of informed debate. Few people remind us how minor the terrorist threat really is. Rarely do we discuss how little identification has to do with security, and how broad surveillance of everyone doesn’t really prevent terrorism. And where’s the debate about what’s more important: the freedoms and liberties that have made America great or some temporary security?