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Diminishing returns in security

Last week, President George W. Bush signed into law the Department of Homeland Security. A Cabinet-level agency, the department is the largest reorganization of government since the creation of the Department of Defense following World War II. The new patchwork department is enormous — 170,000 federal employees from 22 previously independent agencies consuming $40 billion annually.

Though government sharing of information is beneficial in some instances, the new department gives reason to pause as privacy rights are diminished, firewalls between agencies are eliminated and confusion ensues as to the ultimate responsibility of the previously independent divisions.

If the department achieves its aims, U.S. citizens will benefit. One of the largest gains in the private sector over the last decade has been the increased speed and efficiency of information. Although the government has made some gains, as the scrutiny of last year shows, significant gaps remain in its intercommunication.

As of yet, the department has not assured Americans there will be no spillage of information collected under the auspices of national security to normal governmental activities. Erecting these information firewalls to allow a free flow of information when necessary, but blocking it when it is not, represents the department’s greatest challenge and danger.

Even if this challenge is overcome, it is unclear if the department will represent a net gain. The Department of Homeland Security represents good theory waiting to be put into hopefully good practice. As the government implements the program, it should bear in mind citizens also demand the protection of their rights to privacy and liberty.

University Wire — Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota