Surveillance is interesting but beside the point

While listening to a recent “Fresh Air” broadcast about the history of government surveillance, which mentioned some of the numerous attempts to gather digital information in ostensibly trying to prevent another terrorist attack, I thought about this post at The Atlantic that points out that in the interval of 1999 to 2010,

terrorists killed roughly 3,000 people in the United States. And in that interval,

  • roughly 360,000 were killed by guns (actually, the figure the CDC gives is 364,483 — in other words, by rounding, I just elided more gun deaths than there were total terrorism deaths).

  • roughly 150,000 were killed in drunk-driving accidents.

So, the surveillance programs are focused on a threat that is responsible for far fewer deaths than the rather mundane, always-with-us problems of gun violence and drunk-driving.

But I suspect that all the government and private-contractor employees — presumably, smart, ambitious people — are involved in intelligence work because, well, it’s intellectually engaging, technologically challenging work. Analysts get to look at evidence and try to find killers before they strike again — it’s a mystery show! It’s interesting, perhaps in a way that fighting these boring-but-deadly problems isn’t, but it seems a situation reminiscent of a Monty Python sketch:

“More apparatus please, nurse … the E.E.G, the B.P. monitor, and the A.V.V.” “And get the machine that goes ‘ping.'” “And get the most expensive machine in case the administrator comes.”

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