July 9 2013
Donna Wiesner Keene
The National Security Administration’s (NSA’s) scandal is fading as many Americans seem to agree that government tracking of their telephone calls and email may be worth catching terrorists. Our appalling lack of mathematical and scientific education had come ‘round to haunt us. Too many sit on our couches watching reruns of Num3rs, the television show partially written by Bill Nye the Science Guy to promote mathematics – and liberalism. But entertainment isn’t reality.
Science works best when one variable can be calculated from all the knowns, and all the data in the world is never enough to solve a real world problem without the right sets of assumptions. Shows like NCIS, CSI Miami and even my favorite House would have us believe that the bad guys get caught with a sophisticated mix of science and hard-hitting government bureaucrats, but that’s rarely the case in the real world.
Real mathematicians estimate that for every 10,000 false positives in Snowden’s data revelations, algorithms may be able to catch one terrorist. If algorithms were the answer, the government would have used them to catch welfare and tax cheats. If algorithms were the solution, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) no-fly lists would be generally accurate, instead of subjecting hundreds of thousands of people with the misfortune to share a name with a wanted fugitive or suspected terrorist to unnecessary hours-long waits and strip-searches at our airports. “Students” who stay on student financial aid for decades and millionaire farmers who qualify for Agriculture subsidies have demonstrated time after time that government databases are abysmally inaccurate and misused – and that is before we even consider the vast personal information stored with the IRS. Why would government’s terrorist traps be any better?
ALL government databases are deeply flawed, with even the government’s own Inspector General’s Reports showing 17-26% fraud in programs from international aid to food stamp recipients to Medicaid. This is an under-discussed aspect of immigration reform. After all, much of our immigration troubles could be fixed, not with a better fence at the border, but with databases on when and where to pick up tourists and students on expired visas. The bulk of illegal immigrants didn’t risk crossing the vast desert; they flew here legally and just never left.
The National Instant Check System (NICS), a government database set up a decade ago to stop criminals from getting guns, is so inaccurate that as America discovered after Newtown, the violent mentally ill are not included. Shockingly, not all states add their data.
States like Illinois do not even prosecute the felon who tries to obtain a firearm – and the government’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) actually told legitimate businesses to ignore the database in the scandal Fast & Furious.
What was the Democratic Senate’s solution to the breakdown of the systems that are supposed to help keep guns out of the hands of future criminals? Add another database. The government’s current bureaucrats won’t admit the flaws and won’t fix the flaws – and new laws with new databases will proliferate—rather than fix--those flaws.
If Americans have grown used to leviathan government databases of dubious value, they should still be concerned about what’s going on at NSA. NSA’s $1.7 billion, 1 million square foot (and counting) storage facility in Utah is frightening not because of scientific at all … it is as simple as strip comic character’s statement. For according to the Department of Homeland Security, I am a terrorist -- and if you are reading this, so are you. I own a gun, go to church, believe in God, and attend tea party meetings, any one of which means that the DHS already defines you and me as one of the terrorists NSA is watching.
As Walt Kelly wrote for Pogo “Yep, son, we have met the enemy and he is us.” Were you planning on sleeping tonight?
Donna Wiesner Keene, a senior fellow at Independent Women's Forum, is CEO of BrainTrain, a business specializing in marketing and communicating political ideas and projects.