Friday, December 08, 2006


Maintaining a false sense of security

That seems to be an overriding concern these days. Complete security is impossible, so we make a meaningless show of force.

We'll scan container ships for radiation -- but only those that departed from a few ports, and not other kinds of cargo ships. Because we can't check them all. Trade would grind to a halt.

We'll randomly check some people's luggage at the airport, but not everyone's. Because we can't. The check-in would take longer than the flight.

We'll post conspicuous, heavily armed guards in some tourist areas. Why? Apparently, this makes a lot of people feel safe.

We'll search some people's bags on the New York City subway, just because we can.

Meanwhile, we'll leave the chemical plants unguarded, and we'll continue selling automatic weapons to anyone who wants one. Terrorists don't use guns? Right.

The same dubious thinking about security also applies to privacy. Google's chat program, for instance, automatically saves and stores every transcript on the company's servers. To reassure people that their conversations won't be recorded and used for nefarious ends, Google lets you check a box that promises your chats won't be saved. You have to check another box each time you chat to make sure the other party can't save the transcript.

But even if you believe that no digital trace exists of your conversations, what's to keep the other party from copying it down as you type, or taking screenshots?

Don't think too hard about it. Just check the box. You're "off the record," okay? Trust us. Now, just let us see what's in your bag. There, there. Don't you feel safer?

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