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In discussing security vs. civil liberties, I’ve argued that too little questioning of the security side of the balance is going on. The government engages in some elaborate and expensive program in the name of security, and instantly the debate shifts to whether we can deal with the sacrifices in civil liberties. The effectiveness of the security measure is rarely questioned, and the defense of this position is that government security officials have the expertise and shouldn’t be second guessed. But security is about choices. And I wonder whether we’re making wise ones when it comes to security. I found the following article to be particularly disheartening:

A pipeline shuts down in Alaska. Equipment failures disrupt air travel in Los Angeles. Electricity runs short at a spy agency in Maryland.

None of these recent events resulted from a natural disaster or terrorist attack, but they may as well have, some homeland security experts say. They worry that too little attention is paid to how fast the country’s basic operating systems are deteriorating. . . .

The American Society of Civil Engineers last year graded the nation “D” for its overall infrastructure conditions, estimating that it would take $1.6 trillion over five years to fix the problem. . . .

Then an instrument landing system that guides arriving planes onto a runway at Los Angeles International Airport failed for the second time in a week, delaying flights.

Those incidents followed reports that the National Security Agency (NSA), the intelligence world’s electronic eavesdropping arm, is consuming so much electricity at its headquarters outside Washington that it is in danger of exceeding its power supply. . . .

The Commission on Public Infrastructure at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, said in a recent report that facilities are deteriorating “at an alarming rate.”

Infrastructure is part of national security too, but it doesn’t seem to be much of a priority right now for the government. A lot of money is being spent on data mining, NSA surveillance, and more. Could this money be better used? I’m not an expert, but I do believe we need a better system for assessing the effectiveness of security measures. Right now, many seem to be undertaken with little accountability. Congress won’t second guess. The courts often won’t second guess — even when rights are at stake. But somebody needs to second guess. When it comes to security, an area where we’re inclined to act more emotionally than scientifically, how do we create a system that provides adequate scrutiny for our security choices?

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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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.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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