Thursday, 07 July, 2005

When a terrorist attack occurs, it's important not to overreact. In London, around thirty people were killed in a series of explosions on the London underground and a single explosion of the bus.

The goal of terrorism is many fold but principally, it's a tool to strike fear in to the populas. But of course, this fear can have many manifestations. It can wipe millions of the stock market, cause people to avoid using various public services, cause people to make erratic decisions. The primary goal of this action is do try to destabilise the country.

There is no way to stop terrorism in a free society. If we defend the tube, then they'll bomb a sports event. If we defend the stadia, they'll blow up a shopping centre, if we defend our shopping centres they'll blow up a pub full of people. We simply can't secure every terrorist target because there are too main potential targets to cover with our limited security budget. It all boils down to a single question: How much risk are we willing to accept?

Security, by it's very nature, is a trade-off. I could wear a bullet proof vest on my way to work every day but I don't because the risk of me being shot is minimal while the hastle factor of wearing the vest is large. Namely, a bullet-proof vest is expensive, they're often very conspicuous and ultimately a bullet-proof vest doesn't stop someone shooting me in the head.

As a society, we have to make similar decisions but we have to be rational. There's a tendancy after an event like this to reach for the "bullet-proof vest" solution. We think that be removing our liberties we can somehow increase security. It's a common misconception that security and liberty are naturally in opposition. In reality, this often not the case. The best counter-measures are the those that have little or no effect on liberty but effectively mitigate the security risk.

After September 11th, some wise people proposed totally separating the cabin crew compartment from the passenger section of the aircraft. The idea behind this counter-measure is that while the terrorist may be able to hijack the crew compartment, they could never get their hands on the controls of the aircraft directly. Since we can trust most pilots not to fly planes in to a buildings we can say confidently that this single counter-measure reduces the risk of a repeat attack considerably.

To get control of a plane, a terrorist would have to actually BE the airline pilot to fly the plane in to a building. This is considerably more difficult to achieve than before and it costs very little to achieve this physical separation. Of all the things the Americans could have done after September 11th, this is one of the only changes I would have recommended.

And that's really the point. Terrorism is right down in the noise level as far as deaths are concerned. Thirty or so people died today due to terrorism. That's around as many who die from diabetes in a single day. In a couple of days, more people will have died in road accidents than that terrorist attack. The risk of you dying from terrorism is simply none existant. You have more chance of being killed by a shark, struck by lightening, tripping over and breaking your neck while you put your socks on.

I'm not trying to trivialise the loss of life today; I'm trying to put it in perspective. If we want to save the loss of unneccessary lives then we shouldn't start with terrorism, there are plenty of other killers that need tackling before we should even give terrorism a hint of thought. It's very easy at a time like this to think about passing draconian laws to mitigate the perceived risk. You should ask yourself if the perception of the risk is accurate and whether the trade-off is worth it. Should we hand the terrorists a victory by trading in large chunks of our freedom for very little security?

There's a saying in the security community that shouldn't worry about anything that is on the news. The thinking goes that in order for it to be on the news it has to be rare enough to be news worthy. By definition, this means that whatever transpired is so exceptionally rare that the chance of it happening to you is negligible.

Don't be afraid, because that is exactly the purpose of todays excerise. I hope our politicians react with sense and proportion and I would urge each and everyone of you to do the same.


22:55:58 GMT | #Life | Permalink
XML View Previous Posts