The discussion boards I’ve had to use throughout my Master’s program have been endlessly fascinating. They’re almost always apolitical — after all, colliding the worlds of Oracle SQL or Microsoft SQL server and political theory isn’t particularly easy — with rare exceptions.
In my Application Security class, this week’s discussion is about the “scourge” of bad software coming from overseas and what might be done about it. The contention being that without intervention, bad software might flood our markets, causing, in the words of a classmate, “small irritations that on my iTouch, the cover of the audible book does not match the actual book to a Toyota software bug that causes my Prius brakes to fail.”
She goes on to say:
Software applications control my diabetic son’s insulin pump that he needs to stay not only alive but healthy so that he can go to college next month. Software applications control my banking which wouldn’t make anyone very rich but would devastate us if our money was stolen. Software applications run the ticket distribution of the World Series, Super Bowl, World Cup and cause riots when the systems fail.
The point my classmate made was ultimately that she “believe[s] strongly that the ‘bad’ practices and software applications need fixing!”
Now I’ll grant you, it wouldn’t be fair of me to infer that my classmate was demanding government intervention. She didn’t finish her post by demanding that the government pass a bill that specifically sets standards for application security. And as such, I think my biggest beef is the prompt, the notion that there are things in this world that demand something be done.
Whether you’re talking application security or national security, doing “something” because people demand it is security theater, the fever-delusion of believing that running around looking busy makes people safer in anything other than name.
All of which is to bring you this heartbreaking and terrible reminder of just what security theater actually means:
If we cannot prevent an event like Utøya, the worst killing spree ever in world history and the worst terrorist act in entire Europe in two decades, by any means conceivable — why are we playing this security theater and giving up hard-won civil liberties one after another?
The only thing that would have caught Breivik would have been frequent police raids turning his farm inside out, leaving no room to hide his experiments in chemistry. Turning all industries and homes inside out with sharp regularity might have prevented this. Even still, a person as determined as Breivik would likely have been able to blend in even under such circumstances.
Benjamin Franklin famously said, that “a people who gives up its freedom to gain a little security will lose both and deserve neither”. But now that it has been shown in the most gruesome, in-your-face way that we don’t even gain a little security by giving up these freedoms, then why are we doing so?
At its most benign, “security theater” means expensive, incomplete security which leaves all parties exposed without knowing it. When government takes up the yoke of security theater, that expensive, incomplete mess comes with the additional price of rending our civil liberties asunder.
No matter its intentions or its well-meaning missions, government cannot hide us from the creeping specter of death. We are never terribly long for this earth, no matter how many civil liberties we sacrifice. People will always aim to maim and terrify and torture and hurt and, really, that leaves us with a tremendous choice: we can choose to accept the gifts of life and liberty and the ability to pursue what makes us happy and embrace those gifts to the fullest…or we can hand them away in hopes that we can delay the unavoidable end for a moment longer.