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America’s Flimsy Fortress

Bruce Schneier has a view essay in Wired about how all the money spent on security to turn the country into a fortress may make us feel better, but it doesn’t make us any safer. As most readers of this blog will know, Bruce Schneier is CTO of Counterpane Internet Security and author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Uncertain World.

Many of the security measures we encounter on a daily basis aim pinpoint the bad guys by treating everyone as a suspect. The Department of Homeland Security counts on technology to come to our rescue: databases to track suspected terrorists, facial recognition to spot them in airports, artificial intelligence to anticipate plots before they unfold. But that creates a problem similar to the one you see when airport security screeners waste their time frisking false alarms. Terrorists are so rare that any individual lead is almost certainly a false one. So billions of dollars are wasted with no assurance that any terrorist will be caught. When an airport screener confiscates a pocketknife from an innocent person, security has failed.

Security always involves compromises. As a society we can have as much protection as we want, as long as we’re willing to sacrifice the money, time, convenience, and liberties to get it. Unfortunately, most of the government’s measures are bad trade-offs: They require significant sacrifices without providing much additional safety in return. And there’s far too much “security theater” – ways of making people feel safer without actually improving anything.

A lone (or so it often seems) voice of sanity and common sense – just what I needed to get me through today…

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