Cost-Benefit Analysis Of NSA Surveillance Says It's Simply Not Worth It
from the do-some-math dept
The incredible thing in the defense of all of these NSA surveillance programs is that defenders always go back to examples like September 11th — suggesting that if one of these programs stops another attack, they’ll be worth it. And while such attacks are devastating in so many ways, we all implicitly recognize that there is a cost to preventing another attack, and certain costs are simply too high. We’d be much less likely to have another attack, for example, if we grounded all airplanes permanently and never let anyone enter or leave the US. But, obviously, that’s a “cost” that is way too high. Yet, for some reason the defenders of these programs seem to pretend that there are no costs at all. Yet, there are huge costs. We’ve already discussed how the NSA’s surveillance activities are hurting American businesses and why the tech industry should be furious about these efforts — and that cost is becoming clearer day by day.
A new study suggests that the direct losses to US tech companies from people and companies fleeing to other services (often overseas) is likely to be between $22 billion and $35 billion over just the next three years. Germany is already looking at pushing for rules in the EU that would effectively ban Europeans from using services from US companies that participate in NSA surveillance programs (which is a bit hypocritical since it appears many EU governments are involved in similar, or even worse, surveillance efforts).
And… for what benefit? We’ve already seen multiple Senators point out that the NSA and its supporters have yet to provide a single shred of evidence that the bulk collection of metadata (the Patriot Act Section 215 program) was necessary in stopping any terrorist activity. So the “benefit” on the other side of the equation appears to be absolutely nothing. How could it possibly make sense to have a program which costs billions to our economy — and directly to one of the few rapidly growing and expanding sectors of the economy, which also has tremendous productivity benefits for nearly all other parts of the economy — for no benefit at all?
The fact is that big terrorist attacks are flashy and attention grabbing. They pack an emotional punch. I still remember quite clearly watching the towers fall in NYC over a decade ago. But we have to face facts: those things are extremely low probability events. A recent look at the probability of getting killed in a terrorist attack compared to almost any other cause of death shows that you’re much more likely to be killed by a toddler than a terrorist. And the list goes on. Click the link above and it shows what incredibly small probability event terrorist attacks are.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make efforts to stop terrorist attacks. We should. But they need to be within reason, and with a real recognition of both the costs and the benefits. We don’t spend nearly as much trying to stop death from fireworks, yet they’re 14 times more likely to kill you. You’re nine times more likely to be killed by a police officer than a terrorist. Yet, we don’t violate everyone’s privacy to stop cops from killing people. You’re 4,706 times more likely to be killed by alcohol than a terrorist. And yet… drink up. People take risks. We certainly try to minimize those risks but within reason.
If the costs are astoundingly high while the benefits are slim to none, then such programs shouldn’t even have been seriously considered in the first place, let alone implemented and defended vigorously (and misleadingly) by those in power.