I'm grumpy so I'll rant about the Patriot Act
Posted by aogSunday, 23 November 2003 at 12:09 TrackBack Ping URL

I was doing a bit of cleaning in my home office (we just moved in August so I’m still unpacking). Among the forgotten objects I found were some magazines with articles about the Patriot Act and its threat to our civil liberties.

I find the “don’t worry, be happy” and the “Ashcroft is setting up a Gestapo” arguments to a bit over the top. I understand that so far, there haven’t been any real abuses but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be in the future (if, for instance, a Democratic President is elected). In my view, the Patriot Act and other similar legislation on the horizon represents a risk to civil liberties.

But for what purpose are we taking this risk? What continues to bug me about the Patriot Act is that it presumes that the root causes of the intelligence failures leading up to the 11 Sep attacks were lack of powers for our intelligence organizations. The more I read and learn about it, the more specious that seems. As far as I can tell, we can chalk up the failure to basically three things:

  1. Lack of political will at the top
  2. Political correctness in the intelligence organizations
  3. Bureaucratic butt covering

The Patriot Act addresses exactly none of these. It’s bugging me more lately because at work there are some preformance problems with the product. The management and other engineers are running around fiddling with things like the compiler version when there are structural issues that are impeding performance. I use the terms “first order”, “second order”, etc. to talk about this kind of issue, where “first order” are the most important issues, seconder order the next most important, etc. If one were building a fast car, the engine selection would be a first order issue, tire selection second order and the aerodynamics of the side mirror third order. There’s not much point in getting better tires if you’ve got a 100 HP engine in a muscle car. Similarly, there’s little profit in tweaking the compiler when you’ve got an n2 algorithm instead of a linear one.

And finally, it just burns me up to risk civil liberties for the equivalent of getting sleeker mirrors on a muscle car when the engine timing is shot. And of all people, President Bush, the opponent of the causes of the first order failures listed above, is the one willing to take that risk rather than deal with those failures. Why should we accept that risk so that the FBI can repeatedly bungle investigations because incompetence and politically correct concerns? I understand the concerns that lead to granting additional powers to law enforcements agencies but can’t we fix the big problems first and then see if more is needed?