Dominic Lawson has it just right:
This is the background which makes the way in which a Nigerian man was able to detonate an explosive on a transatlantic flight all the more irritating – and it would have been vastly more than irritating if Mr Abdulmutallab’s home-made bomb had ignited as he intended. It turns out that, following an explicit warning by his father to the US authorities about his “extreme” political views, Abdulmutallab’s name had been put on a security watch list, known as Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (Tide). Now, guess how many names are on this list. A thousand? Ten thousand? No, this list, according to Washington officials, contains more than half-a-million names.
So no wonder Abdulmutallab was not subject to any special concerns by officials as he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. If, through sheer bureaucratic over-enthusiasm the authorities have managed to create a list of over half-a-million possible terrorists (perhaps including a handful of Austrian bus-spotters) they might as well have an invisible list with no names, for all the use it will be.
If we are almost all potential terrorists, then we have entered a world of such morbid suspiciousness that none of us can feel safe: exactly the inverse of what our masters’ policies are supposedly designed to achieve.
And this is what the database state is all about: a lazy belief that by codifying, indexing and listing everybody and everything we don’t like on numerous databases, that through these means we can all be protected from every risk you could mention. ID cards will protect us from ID theft (what about just using a shredder?), the ISA will protect us from paedophiles (when local managerial protection and policies are more likely to work), the secret police databases will protect us from protesters (ironic considering many of us are protesters). In the meantime ID cards can be cloned, the ISA will never identify the real child abusers anyway and how on earth could a no-fly list of half a million ever notice Abdulmutallab? The airport security staff will no doubt have been spending so much time trying to threaten photographers that they failed to notice a man walking on a plane carrying a bomb.
I understand that governments will always look for the most efficient answers, but this one and the next have to realise that the security of those most at risk is being threatened by this detatchment from one another. Stop giving the wrong powers to the wrong people – it is the nature of power to be used, and the wrong powers will inevitably be misused. Just wait till the joys we have coming with the Digital Economy Bill.