Friday, June 23, 2006

How much would you spend to catch a criminal?

How much is too much to spend catching lawbreakers?

There are people who might say "Nothing is too much to spend to uphold the law!" -- but they change their tune when they get their tax bill. Somebody has to pay to catch lawbreakers and criminals, and that somebody is wage and salary earners (especially in the current political climate where the rich and wealthy pay proportionally less tax than those who have to work for a living).

Bruce Schneier discusses US-VISIT, the program to fingerprint and keep tabs on foriegn visitors to the U.S.A. (Reminds me of the bad old days in Soviet Russia, where tourists and foreign visitors were constantly treated with great suspicion by the government.)

[...] the last paragraph is the most interesting:

    Since January 2004, US-VISIT has processed more than 44 million visitors. It has spotted and apprehended nearly 1,000 people with criminal or immigration violations, according to a DHS press release.

I wrote about US-VISIT in 2004, and back then I said that it was too expensive and a bad trade-off. The price tag for "the next phase" was $15B; I'm sure the total cost is much higher.

But take that $15B number. One thousand bad guys, most of them not very bad, caught through US-VISIT. That's $15M per bad guy caught.

Surely there's a more cost-effective way to catch bad guys?

Or, alternatively, recognise that many of these bad guys aren't bad guys at all, but merely people who have done no harm what-so-ever but fallen foul of some unnecessary bureaucratic legislation.

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