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Is it me or "National Security" really means National Insecurity? Where's freedom in the illusion of safety?



I have heard that there is an age-old debate in the NSA and CIA about whether it is better to encourage consumer security so that we're less vulnerable, or to encourage the existence of known-to-the-government problems to facilitate signals intelligence.

Ever since 9/11 the signals intelligence side has completely won. And I suspect will continue to until the first major confirmed case of a major cyber attack on the USA that significantly inconveniences the general public. (Ideally an attack from a tiny power - something the size of Al Qaeda circa 9/11 would be perfect.) Then there will be much handwringing over how we could have let ourselves be so vulnerable.


It seems to be a balancing act. Too little secrets, and your law enforcement has a very hard time detecting threats before they happen. When people use VOIP instead of telephone lines, it's very hard to wiretap Dangerous People (and non-dangerous people).

It's easy to find ways that such things make it easier for people whose job, goals, sworn duties, etc are to Protect us, or our nation. Many people join the armed services and civil service (of any country) for that reason. I rather like the idea of our intelligence agencies finding out ahead of time about genuine threats (whether from foreign states or from terrorists and the like), even while at the same time I am frightened by the potential slippery slope of where this could lead if unchecked.

At some point, you really do have to decide whether you prefer safety or liberty. Part of me wants to shout "liberty!", as it's a founding principle of our country, but as a parent and citizen it's very easy to also want safety.


While that choice seems to make sense on a short term, I don't think giving up liberty can lead to safety in the long term. At some point your liberties will be so restricted that you're at the mercy of the rulers without much chance to influence how they rule.


There are so very, very few Dangerous People, and so many, many non-dangerous people. The latter class also includes people with at least some money, so en masse, the non-dangerous people constitute a large amount of money. I reckon that an overwhelming majority of the wiretaps are to make money, rather than to catch Dangerous People, statistically speaking.


A lot of the reasoning behind extending surveillance stems from the need to find the people who enable the dangerous people to do dangerous things.

One example: when I got robbed a couple years back (an armed guy stole my laptop), I had the opportunity to discuss the strategies with the detective in charge of my case. A lot of resources were devoted to catch the guy with the gun, but very little to catching the person (or organization) buying the stolen goods (in this case, a laptop) and reselling them. If you catch the robber, it's easy to replace him. If you disrupt the chain at the receptor, you will do more damage. OTOH, if you catch the unsuspecting buyer of a stolen laptop, he (or she) will gladly point the authorities to the store where they'll find a convergence of many such value-chains. This is where most of the money is and where the most damage will be done to the system. That's why now I have the serial number of my laptops written down and all their labels photographed and stored. And all sensitive information encrypted, in case they don't want my laptop, but the data on it.

Having said that, catching the people who support the really dangerous extremists, the drug-dealers, the pedophiles and the slave-traders involves catching who, at the surface, seems rather harmless, making donations to religious organizations, smoking a joint at a party, buying porn online and groceries from Walmart.

On one hand, we may want to make our technology difficult to abuse, but, on the other, we may also want to find people who are very good at protecting their tracks, and do so through people who really don't know how to do it.


Not too be too difficult, because I'm actually interested in whatever rationale behind extended surveillance exists, but can you cite something official for me to read about this "reasoning"? Because it seems to me that much of the rationale for ridiculous amounts of surveillance is "Hey! Terrorists!" That's certainly what's behind the War on The Unexpected, as manifested by the TSA and DHS.


Humans are so spectacularly bad at evaluating risk that it's impossible for the safety measures to be proportionate.




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