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Why you can’t trust government

Published: Friday, Nov. 2, 2012 11:54 a.m. CDT

Too many Americans are too trusting in government. They think government is there to serve them, when it is often the least efficient, least accountable and most incompetent mechanism to do so.

Let me give you just one recent example. What would you say about a private company that allowed hackers access to 3.6 million Social Security numbers, 387,000 credit and debit card numbers, names and addresses, business taxpayer identification numbers and tax filing information?

You’d probably say that company should be fined millions of dollars. And, in all likelihood, it would be.

But what happens when government does it? The answer is nothing.

Heads don’t roll. People don’t lose their jobs. Nobody gets fined. Only consumers and taxpayers are hurt. And only hackers and criminals win.

That’s just what happened recently — just last month — with the state government of South Carolina. The U.S. Secret Service detected a security breach at the State Department of Revenue on Oct. 10, but it took state officials 10 days to close the attacker’s access and another six days to inform the public of the breach.

Mike Williams, director of the Secret Service in South Carolina, said it’s one of the largest compromises of identity date the agency has seen — but not the largest.

Most of the data had not been encrypted, meaning the hacker would not need a key to a secret code to read the stolen data. This is unheard of in the private sector. If a private company were this negligent, the fines would be enormous — as they should be. The government wouldn’t even have to get involved. The credit card agencies would impose those fines and likely shut down the offending parties.

Not the case with government at any level — local, state or federal.

Instead, what happened in this case was the government established a toll-free hotline and website for taxpayers who might be affected. It was quickly overwhelmed by the hundreds of thousands of people calling.

The state hired a private cyber-security firm to block the attack and to install new equipment and software at the revenue department. That’s called closing the barn door after the horse is out. It also promised to pay for one year of credit monitoring and identity theft protection for those affected. But, of course, no one really knows if they were affected — and may not know for years.

That’s the trouble with government. Who is going to prosecute government officials who fail to protect those they serve?

You might say, “Well, elected officials can be voted out of office, but that’s not the case with private companies.”

Maybe so, but failings like this one are generally the fault of long-time government employees and entrenched supervisors rather than elected officials who serve for limited terms.

In other words, there’s no checks and balances — no real accountability.

This could have happened in Washington, and probably has. This could have happened in any state in America, and probably has. This could have happened in “Any Town USA,” and probably has. It’s the nature of government. It’s business as usual.

Yet, Americans have been indoctrinated into putting their trust in government — big and small. They think government can be trusted to with their most guarded secrets, but private industry can’t. It’s just not so.

First of all, private industry doesn’t force anyone to give up their information. Consumers make a willing choice to buy goods and services from private companies. Governments force citizens to surrender their secrets. Then, as the South Carolina example shows, they forget to lock the doors, inviting criminals to wreak havoc on their citizenry.

Still, with evidence like this, nearly half the country still wants to allow the biggest government in the world to make decisions about life-and-death health-care decisions for them.

I don’t know who’s more incompetent — government or the people who willingly allow it to terrorize them.

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