More Surveillance Can Make Us Less Safe

By Mike Masnick
Tech Dirt

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, we had a post detailing why greater surveillance wouldn’t have helped prevent the attacks. The data was all there, it just wasn’t put together. And yet, in the time since then, the government has, in fact, continually focused on gathering more surveillance (warrantless wiretaps, anyone?), rather than on making better use of the data that is there.

Back in 2002, in another post, we discussed how collecting more surveillance data in data retention schemes also made it harder to find the useful data and harder to connect the dots on the data that you had.

With the attempted terror attack on Christmas, it appears that this focus on doing more surveillance rather than better security was a major part in “failing to connect the dots” that allowed the plot to get as far as it did. The EFF points us to a report noting that the reason why Abdulmutallab was allowed on an airplane into the US in the first place — despite widespread warnings, was that there was a backlog in processing all the data:

Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be “clogged” — overloaded — with information having nothing to do with Terrorism. As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored.

At what point do people realize that collecting more data doesn’t make us more secure, and actually can do the opposite. As is pointed out at the Salon link above, the idea that you even can sacrifice liberty for security is wrong. The famous saying may say that you “deserve neither,” but increasingly people are realizing that sacrificing liberty doesn’t necessarily get you more security anyway. 

In the wake of the September 11 attacks, we had a post detailing why greater surveillance wouldn’t have helped prevent the attacks. The data was all there, it just wasn’t put together. And yet, in the time since then, the government has, in fact, continually focused on gathering more surveillance (warrantless wiretaps, anyone?), rather than on making better use of the data that is there. Back in 2002, in another post, we discussed how collecting more surveillance data in data retention schemes also made it harder to find the useful data and harder to connect the dots on the data that you had.

With the attempted terror attack on Christmas, it appears that this focus on doing more surveillance rather than better security was a major part in “failing to connect the dots” that allowed the plot to get as far as it did. The EFF points us to a report noting that the reason why Abdulmutallab was allowed on an airplane into the US in the first place — despite widespread warnings, was that there was a backlog in processing all the data:

Abdulmutallab never made it onto a no-fly list because there are simply too many reports of suspicious individuals being submitted on a daily basis, which causes the system to be “clogged” — overloaded — with information having nothing to do with Terrorism. As a result, actually relevant information ends up obscured or ignored.

At what point do people realize that collecting more data doesn’t make us more secure, and actually can do the opposite. As is pointed out at the Salon link above, the idea that you even can sacrifice liberty for security is wrong. The famous saying may say that you “deserve neither,” but increasingly people are realizing that sacrificing liberty doesn’t necessarily get you more security anyway.

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