Security Gone Soft

               What do you think of when you hear the phrase “gone soft?”  You probably picture something along the lines of a former body builder who has stopped working out and is starting to get flabby.  Or at least something along those lines.
               In the post, Security Gone Wild, I listed some of the problems when security goes over the top and is too excessive.  But another problem is just the opposite – when security is too soft.  Just like the former body builder, when security goes soft, it is no longer able to do the heavy lifting it once did.  It becomes ineffective and is as much of a danger as security gone wild.
               Those who know me or read my posts know that when I refer to security, I am looking at how security (or the lack of) affects organizations or personal security / self-defense issues.  Today, I am referring to a broader definition of security – macro-security, if you will.  Simply, that is the impact of security on society as a whole, such as public safety or law enforcement.
               There are two main ways that security goes soft.  The first way is to be symbolic only.  The second is lack of enforcement.  Two recent news stories highlight each of these problems.
               The United States imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s state-run oil company, PDVSA.  This was a political move to protest Venezuela’s ongoing trade with Iran, despite sanctions against Iran for its continuing efforts to build a nuclear program.  On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable and appropriate step.  However, the sanctions are almost entirely symbolic and do not actually restrict or stop oil shipments from Venezuela to the U.S.  There are some limits on financing and government contracts, but that is all.  In fact, Hugo Chavez’s response has been to insult and threaten the U.S., building up his own popularity with Venezuelans.  He has threatened to stop oil shipments to the U.S. despite the fact that 45% of his country’s oil exports are to the U.S., which would be economic suicide. 
               This is not only ineffective, but it could become a more dangerous position.  The largely phony sanctions give Hugo Chavez an enemy to rally his people behind and at the same time make the U.S. look weak and unproductive.
               So the risk of the political posturing could actually fail to accomplish what was hoped for and even backfire.
               The second sign of soft security is lack of enforcement.  This is a little different from a symbolic measure that is meant to sound tough, but purposely designed without a penalty.  Lack of enforcement comes when a law is ignored or not enforced for one reason or another. 
               A recent example of this happened in Colorado.  A driver passed a state trooper on a traffic stop and flipped off the trooper as he passed.  The trooper noted the license plate and the driver was later issued a summons for harassment.  Under Colorado law, harassment is a defined as a public display designed to harass, annoy or alarm the person targeted.  Certainly, flipping off anyone is going to be annoying at best, possibly alarming and definitely bothersome.  The ACLU became involved and the State Patrol dropped the charges.  In a way, that was perhaps a safe move to avoid a legal defeat in court, setting a new precedence.  On the other hand, I find the whole idea completely offensive that someone can drive around and flip off anyone, much less law enforcement, and it can be defined as a form of freedom of speech.  Our Founding Fathers must be turning over in their graves.  I’m sure that they did not put their lives, their homes, and everything they had on the line for some future jackass to claim that he had the right to insult others with impunity. 
               Freedom of speech was built on the concept of peaceful assembly and public discussion, not to protect insulting gestures that are certainly not peaceful.
               The risk with this decision not to enforce legitimate laws is the undermining of our public safety and law enforcement.  What are law enforcement personnel to do now?  They are already putting their lives on the line and now have to stand by while being abused without any recourse.  On a side note, next time you happen to be in court for a traffic ticket or even jury duty, exercise your freedom of speech and flip off the judge.  I’ll be curious to hear about the results as I imagine what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.
               So what are the lessons learned from these examples?  Both are out of our control, but do offer some valuable ideas.  One lesson is to understand the risk of security gone soft.  It undermines your overall security program and causes a loss of respect and support for security initiatives.  It is an ineffective use of resources. 
               These mistakes can occur at the organizational level.  Think of a policy in your workplace that is symbolic only and does not actually accomplish anything.  Even easier, think of a policy that is not enforced and is therefore routinely ignored.  Examples could be as simple as propping open a door during a smoke break despite signs warning of the risk of robberies at a restaurant.
               If something is important enough to stand for then it is important enough to do so in a way that works, is effective and produces real results.

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