TSA lied about Secure Flight 2005-04-02

Joi Ito has a very disturbing entry about the US Transportation Security Administration, and their passenger profiling efforts: It's Official: TSA Lied

What disturbs me the most about these programs is the secrecy and the fact that there's been no form of independent assessment of whether or not they work (and little to no reason to believe they will).

It also exemplifies a kind of ongoing hysteria over terrorism that is not in any way warranted given the low number of deaths from terrorism (even when including 9/11) compared to things like natural disasters, traffic accidents, cancer etc.

So why are governments so up in arms about terrorism?

Because it lets them get away with things they wouldn't otherwise, such as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, massive breaches of privacy, imprisoning without due process, and more.

Exaggerating fears to get popular support for oppression has long been a well established method for governments, including a wide range of dictatorships, for restricting liberty and getting a closer grip on their populace.

Now, lets assume that the current governments of these countries won't abuse these laws, what is to say that we don't see a government that WILL abuse them after the next election? 10 years from now? 20?

Laws limiting the governments power aren't there primarily to protect against decent people. They're there mainly to protect us in case someone in power turns out to be prepared to step over the line.

In that respect, it's worth remembering that Hitler got to power via elections. Lots of manipulation, coercion and scare tactics, yes, but he is proof that a democracy is not immune from rapidly descending into dictatorship if there aren't sufficient checks and balances.

You don't need someone like Hitler in power to do significant damage. Someone a fraction of as evil or just plain misguided will do just fine in ruining innocent peoples or drastically reduce liberties that actually affect people.

I think the most important demonstration of how disingenious the current focus on terrorism is can be found in the UK: For decades the UK faced IRA terrorism. I lived here when the two last bomb blasts in London happened. Curbing civil liberties to fight it was never a serious likelihood. Not even after the Brighton bombing that worst case could have taken out most of the cabinet, including then prime minister Thatcher.

Instead now, after there haven't been any bombs going off in Britain for years, and only very limited terror threats in Northern Ireland, now suddenly the government needs power to intern and restrict suspects they don't even think they'd be able to convict for lack of evidence.

What's wrong with that picture?

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