risk, security, and trade-offs

Another excellent essay from Bruce Schneier on the topic.

In sum, our efforts to contain risk–namely risk imposed by other people–is not without cost. Unlike protecting from natural disasters, which don’t “adapt” to human efforts at self-protection, measures meant to protect us from the evil of other humans often leads to significant and implicit trade-offs. Schneier gives three examples.

1. We have allowed the police to turn themselves into a paramilitary organization. They deploy SWAT teams multiple times a day, almost always in nondangerous situations. They tase people at minimal provocation, often when it’s not warranted….

2. We accept zero-tolerance policies in schools. This results in ridiculous situations, where young children are suspended for pointing gun-shaped fingers at other students or drawing pictures of guns with crayons….

3. We have spent over one trillion dollars and thousands of lives fighting terrorism in the past decade…. We now know that the NSA has turned into a massive domestic surveillance organization, and that its data is also used by other government organizations, which then lie about it….

There are lots more examples, but the general point is that we tend to fixate on a particular risk and then do everything we can to mitigate it, including giving up our freedoms and liberties.

Schneier details reasons (hard to gauge risk in many situations; incentives are stacked in favor of higher security in lieu of liberty) as well as the antidote (which is, basically, greater public knowledge and perspective).

It’s nothing Schneier hasn’t said before, as he might say, but worth a read regardless.

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