Monday, July 7, 2008

Followup on false positives

This post from a few days ago has another implication as well.

Recall that our hypothetical screening system is 95% accurate at detecting terrorists. In our hypothetical population of 1,000 truly dangerous terrorists, we found 950, leaving 50 still at large and passed screening as non-dangerous.

This implies that any act of terror that is carried out will quite possibly, in fact probably, be carried out by someone who was screened, and passed screening. So think about it. Another big incident, and it turns out the perp had been investigated, perhaps asked a few questions, and then let go as not a serious threat.

What happens to the screening procedures when it turns out "someone slipped through"? It gets even more draconian, we lose a few more liberties...and very little additional safety is gained.

Ultimately, the only way to be sure we've locked up all the terrorists is to lock up everybody. But instead of accepting a calculated risk, we've become a nation of cowards who refuse to accept that life has risks, and some risks can only be mitigated, not entirely eliminated.

Contrary to his rhetoric, the President doesn't take an oath to protect American lives or even American interests. He takes an oath to defend the Constitution. Certainly the Framers knew that requiring warrants and due process and trials by jury would hinder the efficiency of the government and probably result in some criminals going free. That's part of the price of liberty. Trying to achieve absolute safety, at the expense of essential liberties, is not only impossible, it's un-American. And remembering that is more important than ever when passions are running high and people are scared.

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