Friday, January 14, 2005

Liberty vs. Security

Computers and modern electronics are marvels but less so in the hands of government agencies. The federal government has been a serial offender. Remember the many IRS upgrades that weren't? Yesterday's story about the FBI's $171 million software problem is only the latest in a long series about how agencies could not bring themselves to get it right. Some people are not surprised.

In a world of tade-offs, some of them only exist in theory. Type I and Type II errors are supposed to be inversely proportional. So are equity and efficiency. So are security and freedom.

The latter trade-off is missing in action. The FBI's computers and, too often, policing everywhere provide illustrations. Privacy infringement by government is a lesser problem than many imagine whenever the agencies are incompetent.

That's the good news. A casual reading of events reveals that, too often, we give up freedom and privacy but without even the quid pro quo of extra security. In this sort of world, the only loss in the software example is the dollar cost. Neither security nor privacy are impacted.