THE BLOG
06/24/2013 09:47 am ET Updated Aug 24, 2013

Security v. Privacy?--Oxymoron?

There is already almost too much public discussion about the recent disclosures of U.S. surveillance practices, and, I do not want to add unnecessarily to the blather.

There is, however, one point that seems to have gotten lost in the competing claims about the delicacy of balancing privacy with security: It really is not a matter of delicacy. A delicate balance is, simply, and realistically, not truly practical and almost any effort to strike such a balance is surely doomed to fail, because absolutists will prevail.

It is well known in security circles that the very best security (privacy) for individuals is really only possible with a healthy combination of anonymity [A], irregularity [I] and confusion[C] or AIC for short, plus zipped lips (which really is an oxymoron.) Of course, it is very hard to secure all three elements at the same time in most situations.

However, applying those rules of thumb for average Americans worried about privacy, on the phone and internet, would require a lot of fancy dancing - much more than most ordinary people can, or will, pursue. It is truly not practical to tell people concerned about privacy to play by AIC rules or use smoke signals or go "off the grid." That would still not solve the problem.

If we really want and need to connect the dots ahead of big or little 9/11 problems [clear answer is YES] , we must recognize that it requires reading a lot of tea leaves to have any chance of spotting coming problems ahead of catastrophe. And those tea leaves are largely in our phone systems and internet servers.

So, rather than balance, let alone delicately, we have to choose between competing priorities. Some people, perhaps most, really are not much concerned with their theoretical privacy because they have little or nothing to hide, except their pride.

Others may have strictly personal things to hide but are willing to rely on statistical and human chance to protect their needles in the haystack.

And, a very few may have some serious stuff to hide that really might affect National Security. Those, obviously, are the people to be concerned about.

Grant the ACLU their proposition that everyone, regardless of how bad they are, has the same rights of privacy and protection afforded all citizens under the Constitution.

Still, there is, or ought to be, an overriding exception where national security is at issue. It is comparable to the exception to the First Amendment right to free speech that prohibits crying fire in a crowded theater.

The fact that there are important, but abstract, issues at stake is what gives rise to the uproar going on now, which insists on a middle ground that almost cannot exist.

This takes us back to the beginning of this piece and the wish to find a delicate balance rather than a trade off of priorities. In a nutshell, we are facing an oxymoronic dilemma.

And, in an effort to try to be politically correct, a lot of folks are looking for a solution in the details, many of which may create more national security problems than privacy solutions.

I suspect a silent majority is not yet being heard well enough and I am old enough (and thus perhaps dumb and bold enough) to risk embarrassment at being wrong, to speak the truth out loud as I see it to be.

I am confidant many of my friends in the press, who properly love this stuff as well as the first Amendment, will scream that I do not 'get it' and will whip up ever more confusion, which may be all we really need to bury the subject safely from our friends and enemies.

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