June 19, 2013

Privacy versus Security is the wrong debate

I'll make this relatively short.  President Obama said a while back that he welcomes the debate about how much investigative power and leeway the government has to combat terrorism.  On the face of it, that debate makes sense and in fact it is an important debate that goes all the way back to Ben Franklin's quote "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." That's a great quote but using it in this contexts overlooks one aspect of the situation that is a glaring problem.

Government is full of inefficiencies and its actions always result in some form of unintended consequences.  Therefore should the debate not focus on not what leeway we need to give the government to keep the people of America safe, but rather, why is the government so monumentally inefficient in collecting intelligence? Can they not do far better?

Should the discussion not be about how to make the institutions like the FBI, NSA and CIA more able to collect intelligence without having to cast such wide nets?

Are we not able to obtain more security without giving up essential liberty?  Out of laziness or a lack of critical thinking, these agencies have resorted to blanket searches.  They can, and should do far better.  In the case of airport security screenings in the past that refused to use profiling, the government had put political correctness ahead of simple and easily more effective countermeasures. In the case of eavesdropping they have refused to profile targets and instead violated at least the spirit of the fourth amendment to the Constitution.  Why not profile? It would narrow the scope of intrusion into liberty.  It would certainly be more time-effective (the Boston Marathon bombings prove that blanket tracking does not create blanket protection, despite the examples of successes being brought forward). It would save cost to the government too.

So why isn't that option on the table?  And I'm not suggesting that profiling is the best or only solution.   There are likely a lot of other unexplored opportunities that need to be considered or developed.  That's the conversation we should be having.  How can the government do better at ensuring our security without having to resort to unpalatable methods? The debate is instead being drawn in a direction that will pit conservatives and libertarians and many liberals into odd allegiances which may create some positives, but it derails the notion that libertarians and conservatives can agree upon entirely - that the government can be greatly improved and it does not need to impinge on your liberty to do so.   

Cross posted at Left Coast Rebel.

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