The idea has become so commonplace that it's almost a cliche: security and privacy are opposites, and we as a society need to decide how much privacy we're willing to give up to get more security. That's been the basic message of the Bush administration over the last few months as they've begun talking about ambitious new plans to monitor more and more of our private communications. But Bruce Schneier points out that the dichotomy is false one. Many of the privacy-invading programs now being discussed don't actually provide more security. Confiscating shaving cream and nail files at the airport doesn't make anyone safer. Neither does creating a national ID card, because terrorists rely on surprise, not anonymity. The fundamental issue is that real security involves focusing resources on identifying and stopping the tiny fraction of the population that is engaged in criminal and terrorist acts. The vast majority of people pose no threat to anyone, and it's a waste of resources to monitor them. Programs focused on the general public, such as the TSA's airport searches, national ID cards, and Internet-wide surveillance are a bottomless drain on law enforcement resources that will turn up far more false positives than real leads. Abandoning them won't just enhance Americans' civil liberties, but it will also free up resources for the sort of difficult, in-depth police work that really does stop terrorist attacks.
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