Day by Day

Monday, January 26, 2004

I'm not dead, and the Patriot Act sucks

The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

Today, a portion of the Patriot Act was declared unconstitutional. As far as I'm concerned, the less of that act that goes into effect, the better.

My feelings on terrorism and security are simple: our security measures do nothing to help fight terrorism. All they do is inconvenience us.

Let's use airplanes as an example. Consider this: over the last 15 years, maybe half a dozen American planes have been hijacked (coming out of America, not coming into America). This includes the 9/11 planes. Now let's do some math -- let's say, for argument's sake, that 500,000 planes take off from airports all across America in any given year. This gives us a total of 7.5 million flights over the past 15 years, of which 6 have been hijacked. Those hijacked planes represent 0.00008% if all of the flights.

Or, to put it another way, 99.99992% of all of the flights in the last 15 years had no incidents.

Folks, we consider that a nearly perfect success rate. It's not 100%, but nothing ever is. Most security plans aim for 99% effective or higher -- maybe 99.99% or so. This is above even that.

So we have to ask ourselves: what is the use of these security measures? My answer is the same as gun-control laws: none at all. In the extremely unlikely event that someone wants to do something, they will find a way around it. They always do. Think a law banning knives will keep them out of airplanes? Try again -- I could build a knife that would get past metal detectors, and I know virtually nothing about building weapons. Someone who does know something could do much worse.

So what do these laws actually do? Well, they inconvenience everyone because of a very few. Because someone hijacked an international flight, my flight from Seattle to Chicago goes through insanely stupid security measures. Come on, let's face it: no one wants to blow up a domestic flight for the same reason that no one wants to blow up the McDonald's down the street for me: there's no press in it. Not internationally, anyway. And in the end, terrorism thrives on press.

The Patriot Act exemplifies this mindset: because a few people aren't very nice, we have to spy on everyone. There's no real reason for it except to give the government more power to spy on its citizens... something which it has no business doing. "Innocent until proven guilty" means that we are assumed to have done nothing. The Patriot Act ignores this.

Like it or not, we have a reactive justice system -- we catch criminals after they have committed a crime. It's integral to our way of life, and it's enshrined in our Constitution. Things like the Patriot Act and airport security measures give us the illusion of protection in exchange for our personal liberty, and the sooner we expunge that mindset from this country the better.

Those who would give up essential freedoms for security, deserve neither freedom nor security.
-- Ben Franklin

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