Privacy and Security: Why not both?

One of the remarks made by the President regarding the recently leaked NSA programs that some folks are somehow surprised about speaks to the longstanding concerns in American political discourse about the balance between security and privacy.  President Obama is quite right in saying that, “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”

It is incredibly important to recognize this fact which has been demonstrably true in many human societies throughout history and is even obviously true on an individual level.  Privacy and security are typically inversely related when it comes to any form of government.  Security usually involves watchers of some kind, and that tends to quite naturally reduce privacy.  Maximizing both security and privacy would probably only be feasible on an individual level for someone with the resources to build an impenetrable underground bunker in which they could grow or otherwise maintain a lifetime supply of food.

This not being an option for most of us, we certainly need to deal with the fact that we are not going to be able to have the kind of security we keep demanding of our government without sacrificing a corresponding level of privacy.  As it happens, I disagree with President Obama (and his predecessor President Bush) as to where the appropriate balance lies between 100% security and 100% privacy, but his point that we cannot have all of both is one that a large portion of our populace needs to take to heart so that we can honestly evaluate how much risk we are willing to take for our privacy.

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