A Philosopher's Blog

The Principle of Security

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on November 26, 2010
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While I am sometimes accused of being “soft on terror” because of my views of the war on terror (or whatever it is called now) in general and airport security in particular, I consider my approach to be a rational one. Since I am often cast as an “intellectual”, I feel somewhat obligated to do the intellectual thing and present a principle rather than just taking a view based on how I feel about one thing and then holding an inconsistent view on a similar thing just because I happen to feel differently about that.

My general principle for security is that a security method should be assessed based on the effectiveness of the method, the probability of the threat the method is supposed to counter and the degree to which it violates or infringes on legitimate rights/liberties, the relevant consequences, and the cost of the method. As such, this is a cost benefit analysis. If a method counters a likely threat effectively and does so without a disproportionate violation of rights/liberties and cost, then the method would seem to be acceptable. Otherwise, there would be reasonable grounds to reject the method.

Obviously, I do not have an exact formula and specific methods can be subject to reasonable debate. For example, I think that the full body scans could be effective, that the threat they counter is very unlikely, that the method violates privacy rights too much, and the scanners are too expensive. As such, I am against the full body scanners. However, all these points can be argued.

As another example, I am opposed to the employment of 3,000 (or so) “behavior detection officers.” While I suppose that it is good that these folks are employed, they seem to be rather ineffective: of the 266,000 referrals made since 2006, only 0.7% have even led to arrests. Hardly a high success rate for the cost. Given that “behavior detection” is, at best, an infant science, this is hardly surprising. As such, my view is that this is not a wise use of limited resources. Naturally, this is subject to debate as well.

One thing I have found rather interesting about security is that many people seem to operate on at least two standards: one is for things like the war on terror and the other is for almost everything else.

For example, someone who might balk at a law that prevents parents from smoking in the car with their kids (thus putting their kids at risk for various serious health problems) might think that full body scans and pat downs are acceptable because they help keep use safe from a threat (however incredibly unlikely the threat might be). This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state has the right to violate rights to counter threats, then this right would seem to apply to both situations.

As another example, someone who is opposed to the state getting involved in health care (even though lack of health insurance leads to many deaths), restricting pollution (even though pollution is harmful), or regulating business  (even though many business have shown an unrelenting tendency to behave badly, such as acting in ways that wrecked the economy) might be fine with things like enhanced interrogation, secret prisons, and assassinations. This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state is in the business of keeping us safe, then this should apply to keeping us safe from not only terrorists but also diseases, pollution, and dangerous business practices.

In my own case, I use my principle consistently to assess whether a security method is acceptable or not. So, for example, I assess state regulation of business based on the efficiency of the method, the likelihood of harm, the possible violation of rights/liberties and the cost. In the light of the catastrophic damage done to the economy that can be causally linked to business practices, it seems reasonable to impose regulations on such behavior. Letting business regulate itself in the hopes that they will act responsibly or be “corrected” by market forces is on par with removing all airport security and hoping that the terrorists will self-regulate or that the invisible hand will sort things out. The fact of the matter is that bad behavior generally requires an active counter.

Of course, the counter has to be weighed against the rights and liberties it infringes upon. So, for example, business folks do have rights and liberties that should be taken into account. Also, there can be relevant consequences in regards to limiting business too much. As some folks argue, business folks need a degree of freedom in order to make profits and keep the economy going. Likewise, the way people who travel by air can be treated should be limited by their legitimate rights.

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26 Responses

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  1. magus71 said, on November 26, 2010 at 3:35 pm

    MIke,

    1) You’ve yet to state exactly what liberties are at stake here. I’ve outlined several times the court decisions that state that you submit yourself to search when you walk into the search area.

    2) “After all, if the state has the right to violate rights to counter threats,”

    This is loaded. The state cannot violate rights, but it can take them away or change them For instance, a felon is not allowed to have a firearm. Where does the constitution say we need licenses to travel, as in drive?

    3) You make another mistake that you make often. You make an argument using examples that you assume are settled and true:

    “As another example, someone who is opposed to the state getting involved in health care (even though lack of health insurance leads to many deaths), restricting pollution (even though pollution is harmful), or regulating business (even though many business have shown an unrelenting tendency to behave badly, such as acting in ways that wrecked the economy) might be fine with things like enhanced interrogation, secret prisons, and assassinations. This, however, seems inconsistent. After all, if the state is in the business of keeping us safe, then this should apply to keeping us safe from not only terrorists but also diseases, pollution, and dangerous business practices.”

    There is an argument as to how much regulation is good or bad. It is not that one side says: “We don’t want universal health care becuase we want people to suffer.” Their argument is that universal health care will cause more people to suffer in one way or another. Same thing with business regulation.

    4) Yet again, you make the argument based on linear logic, that putting money into disease prevention will prevent disease. Is it possible that we could put every last dollar in the GDP into curing cancer and we would not find the cure? Yes. However, I’m pretty sure that terrorists will not use bombs under their clothing while this security is in place. So at least we know what we get.

    5) Before 9-11, it was legal to carry a 4 inch blade onto a plane. Now it is not. Would you go back to the old rules on that?

    6) Apparently this hasn’t stopped many from flying. Just a lot of people trying to make the news, which will fade also.

    7) Why is it that people have been subject to search upon entering a military base ever since 9-11, but nobody picthed a fit? That’s civilians and military entering a base. I get my car search about every 5-10 times through the gate. The airlines are federally regulated.

    8) How would you, as director of TSA, respond to people after getting rid of this security and then having al-Qaeda do the exact thing they did before–hide a bomb under clothing. Someone would be in trouble and i think it would be the person that decided a simple measure was too much.

    9) The cost ofthe machines is the only material cost. And once they’re purchased, they’re purchased.

    10) It was very unlikely that someone would try to shoot me as a police officer. But I wore a vest and carried a gun. Security measures are not only deemed as needed becuase of the likelyhood of attack or infiltration, but because of the severity of a resultant successful attack. And an attack on an airplane with a suicide bomber is a very good thing for a jihadist:

    a) At some bases I’ve been at Haqqani network fighters would rush the razor wire with 40 guys, 12 of them wearing suicide vests, just in hopes of getting asingle guy through whom may be able to kill a few soldiers.

    b) The terrorists do not attack planes regularly because of security. It’s not because trhey don’t want to. They’d do it every day if we let them.

    A 747 costs between $230 300 million dollars a piece,

    http://www.boeing.com/commercial/prices/index.html

    not including fuel. I won’t put a price on the human lives it carries. Then add in the costs of an investigation, which I’m assuming costs millions, as well as possible lost business as a result of uncertainty. 9-11 cost around $80 billion. If another large attack on multiple airplanes will shut the industry down for a while.

    These are facts and we must deal with them, not sit on our hands or be “outraged” at a patdown which seems like perfect sense given the cost of allowing a single bomb onto a plane.

    • erik said, on November 26, 2010 at 3:59 pm

      As you probably know, from previous posts, I’m with you on this. Praised be the Lord.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on November 27, 2010 at 12:35 pm

      You’ve yet to state exactly what liberties are at stake here. I’ve outlined several times the court decisions that state that you submit yourself to search when you walk into the search area

      Depends on the situation. Searches fall under privacy rights.

      2) “After all, if the state has the right to violate rights to counter threats,”

      This is loaded. The state cannot violate rights, but it can take them away or change them For instance, a felon is not allowed to have a firearm. Where does the constitution say we need licenses to travel, as in drive?

      I would argue that the state’s agents can violate rights. For example, if the state taps your phone without a warrant, then they have violated your right to privacy. Now, if you want to make this a semantic point (that the state is taking away your right to privacy rather than violating it), then this becomes another sort of discussion.

      3) You make another mistake that you make often. You make an argument using examples that you assume are settled and true:

      4) Yet again, you make the argument based on linear logic, that putting money into disease prevention will prevent disease. Is it possible that we could put every last dollar in the GDP into curing cancer and we would not find the cure? Yes. However, I’m pretty sure that terrorists will not use bombs under their clothing while this security is in place. So at least we know what we get.

      Sure we could put every last dollar into cancer research and not find a cure. Just as we could put every last dollar into security and still be attacked. Also, there are areas where money can be expended with clear results (providing basic medical care to children in need, for example).

      5) Before 9-11, it was legal to carry a 4 inch blade onto a plane. Now it is not. Would you go back to the old rules on that?

      I never said that I agree with all the old standards. In any case, it is easy enough to get effective weapons on a plane even now. I can think of numerous ways to use or convert “legal” items into such weapons or get them through security. Obviously, I’m not going to spell the details out here.

      6) Apparently this hasn’t stopped many from flying. Just a lot of people trying to make the news, which will fade also.

      True, people do forget quickly about things that once outraged them. It is, as Merlin said, “the doom of men that they forget.”

      7) Why is it that people have been subject to search upon entering a military base ever since 9-11, but nobody picthed a fit? That’s civilians and military entering a base. I get my car search about every 5-10 times through the gate. The airlines are federally regulated.

      Because it is a military base. Now, if you want to classify airports as DoD bases and in need of military grade security operations, that could be an option.

      How would you, as director of TSA, respond to people after getting rid of this security and then having al-Qaeda do the exact thing they did before–hide a bomb under clothing. Someone would be in trouble and i think it would be the person that decided a simple measure was too much.

      Well, I’d probably respond the same way the folks in charge of auto-safety respond when people die in car crashes, or how the FAA responds when people die in plane crashes, or how the FDA responds when food contamination kills people, or how the government responds when people die from other things that the state is supposed to protect them from.

      9) The cost ofthe machines is the only material cost. And once they’re purchased, they’re purchased.

      Maintenance, replacement parts and upgrades…

      • magus71 said, on November 27, 2010 at 1:28 pm

        “Well, I’d probably respond the same way the folks in charge of auto-safety respond when people die in car crashes, or how the FAA responds when people die in plane crashes, or how the FDA responds when food contamination kills people, or how the government responds when people die from other things that the state is supposed to protect them from.”

        Mike, you do understand the difference between the things you listed and terrorism, right? That real, intelleigent beings are trying to make it happen, and so when you don’t respond, things can get a lot worse than otherwise. So if there a plane exploding every day it would be ok because the same amount of people died on the roads? Remind me not to hire you as my security guy.

        Secret Service: Ok, you’re responsible for making sure the President doesn’t get killed.

        Mike: I’d suggest doing nothing, since he’s only one dude and tons of dudes die everyday.

        Secret Service: Umm.

        Mike: No really. I have just as great a chance from dying by eating tainted meat as the president does from an assassin.

        Secret Service: Ok. I’m not great at math, but your job is to watch for assassins, not tainted meats.

        MIke: It’s not just tainted meats. Did you know that lawn darts are illegal?

        Secret Service: I guess. Just make sure the president doesn’t get hurt.

        Mike: Why bother? I mean how many presidents have been assissinated? How many have even come close? A drop in the bucket to the number of people that’ve died from falling icicles. We could save money and lives simply by taking all of your paychecks and making safety videos warning people of the dangers of palm kernal oil in the diet.

        Secret Service: Don’t you think more people will try to kill the president if he has no security. I mean, who was it that said he could take over a whole nation of pacifists with a butter knife?

        Mike: Orwell. Orwell said it. Speaking of butter knives…

  2. Asur said, on November 26, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Mike, I think the crux is what the legitimate rights of a traveler are.

    If all travelers are equal, then no traveler should be privileged (i.e. posses a right) such that other travelers are put at risk by it.

    If you agree that such a risk is introduced by the absence of searches (given that some explosive devices are not passively detectable), then active searches seem warranted.

  3. erik said, on November 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    MIke, I see no inconsistency in supporting firearms registration, sensible business regulation, public smoking restrictions, pollution control, AND body scans and the pat downs that follow for those who refuse the scans. I don’t believe in absolulte control of guns, total elimination of cigarette smoking, shutting down factories because pollution is a possibility, or patting down a child (unless, of course, the parents refuse to allow the scan). “Reasonable and necessary for public safety and well-being” should should be the key consideration. I’m not so puritanical that “touching my junk” in any way balances out the potential, and at this time seemingly very real, danger to my fellow passengers on a 777. There’s a lot of room for debate within that structure, but while the debate is ongoing should we be endangering the lives of a 777 full of innocent passengers?

    I believe the state has the right to deal with real and imminent danger and suffering Let the abstract suffering of possible harm to our freedoms and the ensuing inevitable discussion of whether any step we take puts us on a slippery slope to socialism (or worse) for another time

    • Asur said, on November 26, 2010 at 4:40 pm

      …how do you connect harm to individual freedoms with socialism?

      FYI, the slippery slope you’re implying terminates in totalitarianism, not socialism. You might want to take a closer look at premise #2 from Magus’ post…you’d never call Magus a socialist, would you?

      • erik said, on November 26, 2010 at 6:40 pm

        Perhaps I should have put a YIKES! OMG! after the “(or worse)” Hey, I’m just parroting what I hear from the mouths of too many conservative/teaparty types who don’t know a democrat from a socialist from a teapot. For them, the next stop on the slide past socialism IS totalitarianism.
        EX: An argument I heard, and c’mon, you heard it too) during the health care reform debate: “This “socialist” plan , pushed by a regime with socialist goals, requires everyone to buy insurance (one small step for totalitarianism?). From Politico and Orrin Hatch: “They want to force people to do whatever they want them to do. That’s what you call totalitarianism. It is not really good government.” That’s how “they” connect the two terms. And that’s why in most cases we should leave the” inevitable discussions” of the “slippery slope” for another time.

        Magus a socialist?Ask him. He should have a brand spankin’ new definition hand-crafted to fit his answer/argument :)

        • kernunos said, on November 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm

          The day Magus become a socialist is the day I give myself a sex change with a plastic spork from KFC.

          • erik said, on November 29, 2010 at 9:20 pm

            I heard about that operation on Fox, didn’t I? Didn’t you put a right chicken wing where your dingus used to be? Beck was all atwitter.
            We haven’t heard Magus’ definition yet. We might be surprised! :)
            I think he’s a closet intellectual. Chooses not to out himself because he’s afraid of being overrated. . . :(

            • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 9:40 pm

              That was an if but I have confidence he is not. I wasn’t discussing your sexual fantasies. Magus is an intellectual but he knows when to turn it off and not think in circles when action is needed. Are you saying intellectual=socialist?

            • erik said, on December 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm

              In order:
              Hey, fella, I believe that started with your sexual fantasy. Always had a “thing” for Col. Sanders. . . dintcha?
              Does he really?
              No.

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 1:34 am

              No you! lol

        • kernunos said, on November 29, 2010 at 9:21 pm

          I take your ‘teapot’ and I raise you a leftist.

          • erik said, on November 29, 2010 at 9:54 pm

            This guy wasn’t at the head of the ticket in any state. And in the opposing corner, militia groups abound.

            These two teanutjobs were at the head of the Republican tickets in their respective states:

            and um, er, Christine O’Donnell

            • kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 2:43 am

              This guy was on a ticket.

            • erik said, on December 2, 2010 at 8:22 pm

              So? Are you saying you’ve swallowed that crap whole about BO being a socialist. . .

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 1:43 am

              Why don’t you tell me who he is? He sure doesn’t. Still, does he lie? When you say something and then later say you never said that ‘something’ is that a lie?

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 1:53 am

              Why deflect erik? Freddiek was much better than you at it. I speak from the heart about how I feel about racism and treating people by their character and not their color and you bring out bumper stickers. You are the one starting to sound like a bumper sticker with liberal tactics of discrediting. So is he closer to the founders of this country or a socialist? The point is that nobody really knows. Come on, commit erik, tell me who the real Obama is.

              These are liberal experts. He had the most liberal voting record of any senator during his time there. What the hell is he erik?

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 1:54 am

              This should bring out more visceral rage from you.

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 2:04 am

              Here is your definition of socialism erik.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialism

              Then I ask you how close does this come to controlling interest in GM? Then the UAW gets shares in the GM IPO. How close is this to Socialism?

              Offer me an example in the other direction by this president. Seriously erik, it doesn’t matter what I or anybody else thinks. His actions define him.

            • erik said, on December 3, 2010 at 10:49 am

              “What the hell is he erik?”

              Hmm. Given the link you provide, we (even you)should have to say he’s a liberal. Not even “close” to a socialist.

              Perhaps I missed something. Since when is “close to socialism” actually socialism?* How many major corporations are there in the US? How many did the government purchase majority ownership in when the world economy was in the financial dumpster (to be returned to the company eventually) ? Is that too “close” ? Is that more egregious than Paulson and Bush dumping $700billion into a sinking financial system in 2008? And doing it without establishing ownership of the banks, just “expecting some of the money to be returned? And just as an aside you’ve gotta read The Big Short by Michael Lewis to get some insight into the depth of the corruption and absolute stupidity behind Wall Street’s meltdown.

              When do we finally hit that “sloppery slop” [intentional misspelling] that conservatives, libertarians etc seem ever prepared to drag out when their arguments falter? That point where you’ve all gone into some restroom, looked into your crystal balls, and determined that the gap between “close to socialism” and socialism has inevitably been closed?

              * An analogy (not a straw man) for you). If a guy says “I simply want to reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” is he an anarchist or a neocon or a conservative. . .

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 12:37 pm

              “Is that more egregious than Paulson and Bush dumping $700billion into a sinking financial system in 2008? And doing it without establishing ownership of the banks, just “expecting some of the money to be returned? And just as an aside you’ve gotta read The Big Short by Michael Lewis to get some insight into the depth of the corruption and absolute stupidity behind Wall Street’s meltdown.” Yes, Paulson and bush dumping the money into the system was wrong as I see it. I have always opposed ANY of the stimulus bills. The question was on socialism though. You are defelecting again. Which is closer to socialism, dumping the money in or taking controlling interest of a major corporation by the government? It really is obvious.

            • kernunos said, on December 3, 2010 at 12:42 pm

              “* An analogy (not a straw man) for you). If a guy says “I simply want to reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” is he an anarchist or a neocon or a conservative. . .” Can we insert any word in place of government?

            • erik said, on December 3, 2010 at 2:09 pm

              “I have always opposed ANY of the stimulus bills.”
              And the world would be a better place, right? I wish you’d be right and we had survived the financial crisis w/o any stimulus action. You’re free to speculate otherwise–but the stimuli were undertaken under two administrations. Lots of people are on both sides of that issue. I think I’m right and you’re wrong.

              Now you’re deflecting. The question was actually about Obama being a socialist. The question I asked was “Since when is “close to socialism” actually socialism?”You’re ready to call Obama a socialist but your provided definition of socialism does not come close to proving he’s a socialist. Keep trying.

              “I simply want to reduce [government] to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub.” You ask if you can replace “government” with any word. You have my permission to replace “government” with “kernunos” and the two “it”s with “him”. Otherwise, we’ll ignore the irrelevant question and stick with Nordquist’s original intent–“government”.

  4. kernunos said, on November 30, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Here is another star you can put in your folder. The boy with the shirt off incident. So tell me, could an autistic white boy be a Muslim terrorist?

    http://www.theblaze.com/stories/blaze-exclusive-rep-demands-tsa-correct-account-of-boys-strip-search/


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