Bruce Schneier is one of the voices I trust. I learned most of what I know about crypto systems from his books, I read his Crypto-Gram newsletter every month. His common sense approach to security – computer and otherwise – has affected how I think through the issues. He taught a lot of us to always ask the questions “What does this buy me, how much will it cost me and in what coin?” whenever presented with a “security solution.” Now he weighs in on America’s race to trade away our rights for the perception of increased security in his op-ed Slouching Toward Big Brother. It is good stuff, as always. He asks the hard questions that most of us are labeled “unpatriotic” when we bring up:
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?