Tuesday, August 03, 2004

the ethics of information

These recent revelations of terror threats haven't caused me to worry so much as they have puzzled me. I'm optimistic in that I don't believe they were done for political reasons, but I can't help thinking that there's a better way to handle this kind of intellegence. At a press conference this morning Tom Ridge, Head of the Department of Homeland Security said that releasing this information is "not about politics, it's about confidence in government." Bush has followed along those lines in comments he's made. Despite my optimism, I still wonder what apolitical purpose this essential "confidence in government" serves. I don't buy is this idea that the Bush administration has graciously shared important information in order to keep amurricans optimistic about how well we're doing fighting terrorism. I do, however, buy the implicit logic that letting the terrorists know we're on to them will hopefully slow or deterr the attacks. If that's what they mean by "confidence in government" then that's fine.

I wonder if there's a better way to achieve the same effect -- letting the plotters know we're on to their plans -- without all the nasty side-effects of public disclosure. For me, these side-effects include: 1.) creating a unnecessairly edgy and panicked citezenry that may affect certain aspects of the economy; 2.) giving the "bad-guys" a clear view of response tactics; and 3.) allowing the impression that terrorist information etc can be used politically, a scenario that may lead people to distrust future warnings.

So maybe you guys can help answer my nagging questions. Does a well informed public aid in its own protection? Is the Government obligated to share threat information? What can be done to achieve all the good effects of letting this out without all the negatives?

Any ideas? Comments?

3 Comments:

At 8/03/2004 03:49:00 PM,

It has come to my attention that Chris is a nerd. :) More information on this topic will follow. :)

 
At 8/07/2004 12:57:00 PM,

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 8/07/2004 01:03:00 PM,

Chris,

I agree, there has to be a better way to inform the public. Is it just me or is the use of terror threat warnings becoming the next car alarm. We all pause for moment, look to see the goofball who bumped the other car while trying to put groceries in his own. We all listen while they annouce it, then go about our daily business. Personally, I'm glad that everytime something new comes up they don't annouce it. The country's supply of blood pressure medicine would be depleted in a matter of days if it did. Obviously there have probably been threats that have been diverted without public knowledge. I agree, it seems that it would make more sense to advise the threat directly verses tell everybody at once, but again who say they don't. Maybe, they are giving us only the information that we could be concerned about. However, working for the one of the institutions that was recently mentioned by the government, the only upgrade in security was an email to report suspious activity and more security "rent a cops" placed in key locations. All I'm saying is that people may not even be willing to take them seriously again until something else happens.

 

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