Friday, September 15, 2006

Using Common Sense in Homeland Security

On Tuesday, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, told a Senate committee hearing what any half-way intelligent analyst already knew: that the United States can not afford to protect every possible target from terrorism. Mr. Chertoff used the example of highway safety, noting that “I put my daughter in my car. If I wanted my daughter to be 100 percent safe, I’d put a five-mile-an-hour speed limit cap on the car. [But that is not an option] because that’s more safety than we can afford.”

This is true. Increased security always comes at a price. Sometimes that price is financial, sometimes it is paid in civil liberties, but there is always a price. The government needs to be more sensitive to those prices when determining how to best protect the country.

However, Chertoff didn't go quite far enough. His comments were directly primarily at government as the payer of the costs of security. But other agents pay as well. Banning liquids on planes, for example, not only imposed increased screening costs on TSA and DHS, but slowed down the speed of business and made people's flights uncomfortable. All are costs that must considered. In order to really determine whether the benefit of increasing security is worth the cost, Homeland Security must not only consider the financial burden to the nation, but also the price paid by other actors.

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