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Do Something

Politicians have a tough job -- especially those with integrity.  Their employers (the voters) are, for the most part, less informed on the issues than they are and can frequently be more easily swayed by passion than rational thought.  Even if there is nothing the government can do to help a particular situation it may be a political necessity to "do something".  In the email exchange below I respond to an writer from Israel who is baffled by our country's irrational changes in the visa system.

Although I didn't say it, this same writer has given his support to the concept of a national or even universal identification card which can be defeated in exactly the same manner as he describes for the visa system.  <shrug>  As I state below, it is irrational to expect people to be rational.

-----Original Message-----
From: The Biometric Consortium's Discussion List On Behalf Of Huffman, Joseph K
Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 11:12 AM
Subject: Re: Foreign Visitors as potential Terrorists.

From: OptiSec
Sent: Tuesday, September 30, 2003 9:25 AM


So why spend $3.8 billion as a starter, when a terrorist organization can procure authentic government documents by paying some government clerk a few thousand dollars to create an authentic passport with an alias? The US government does not have photographs of even 10% of all terrorist much less their fingerprints. So what good will the visa system be in eliminating terrorism?


My first off-the cuff comment is: It is irrational to expect people to be rational.

But beyond that, as is the case with many political actions it's not about solving problems it's about "doing something" about problems. From the viewpoint of the politician it may actually be a rational thing to do. The people at large, not the ones that have actually given the problem a few minutes of thought, see that "we are doing something" and feel better. Had the politicians told them the truth, "There isn't really much we can do to stop a well financed and determined terrorist from entering our country and doing damage." He or she would be quickly replaced by someone that promised them the security they want even if it were impossible to deliver that security.

Almost for certain you already knew this but as scientists and engineers we tend to forget that people, particularly large groups, do not act in a rational manner. The passionate, good looking, but ignorant and dishonest politician will be far more successful than the well informed, honest one whose speeches put people to sleep and physical appearance is at the lower end of the scale.

Joe Huffman
Senior Research Scientist
Cyber Security Group
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Richland, WA