This great cartoon by Tom Toles (Washington Post) captures what I’ve been blogging about (here, here, and here) with regard to national security, terrorism, and privacy. We’re spending tons of money on elaborate ways to detect terrorists, such as Secure Flight, data mining, searches of bags in NYC subways, and so on. Meanwhile, we’re not giving sufficient attention to an even greater threat — a potential bird flu pandemic.
The risk of being killed by terrorism is very low. Terrorism works because it is dramatic, because people’s fear is disproportionate to the risk, because governments respond in such a frenzied fashion, curtailing civil liberties and making everyday life more inconvenient for cosmetic security measures that add little to no additional real security.
Here’s a list of the top 20 leading causes of death [link no longer available] in 2002 from the CDC. I’m looking for a more complete list of death statistics beyond the top 20, so if anybody knows where I can find them, please let me know. Let’s assume a terrorist attack of 9-11 proportions each year — which is, of course, not likely and not borne out by history, as terrorist attacks have been few and far between. Note that 9-11 wouldn’t even make the top 20 causes of death!
|Cause of Death||Number of Deaths|
|1||Heart Disease||576, 301|
|4||Chronic Low. Respiratory Disease||108,313|
|5||Influenza & Pneumonia||58,826|
Certainly, there are costs to terrorism beyond lives and injuries. There’s the anger from being wronged, as well as the creation of a sense of vulnerability. Certainly, we should devote resources to fighting terrorism. But programs such as Secure Flight and data mining, which have yet to deliver any benefits, which are costing millions to study and develop, and which pose significant concerns for privacy and civil liberties, strike me as incredibly wasteful. The same is true with the NYC subway searches. It’s a waste of money and resources that could be used in addressing the more serious (and often preventable) risks of death in our society . . . like the bird flu.
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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.