Saturday, September 25, 2004

Discretion, the better part of what?

Anyone interested in security should definitely read one of Bruce Schneier's CryptoGram newsletters. He offers a refreshing insight as to how most of the security measures, taken post 9/11 offer just an appearance of safety, reassuring us that things are hunky-dory. One of the points he raises, took me off on a completely different tangent. He says, that having security guys check IDs is dumb. They will only block people on the ridiculous no-fly list, but they should be trained well and given more responsibility.

For the past 15 years or so, since liberalization began in India, I think this is exactly the kind of power that we've tried to take out of the hands of the government officer. The rules are clear, and transparent. No discretionary power in the hands of anyone. One in breach of the law is out, and one complying is in.The struggle in India is on, and we might yet win.

Slight hitch. The law, or the powers that be, mess up. Case in point: No-fly list. The Hon. Senators and ex-pop stars are getting caught.(OK, this one's a bit goofy) But don't forget the unwashed masses who don't get any publicity after being booted off the next discounted flight they were trying to board. Not much can be done here.

I had the pleasure of experiencing NJ's DMV in a similar way. I go all the way to Trenton in the morning negotiating weekday rush hour traffic to get my license transferred from PA to NJ, only to find that I could have done the same at my neighborhood DMV. Only, they forgot to update the website(that's a totally different story). I pay my money, get my mug shot, and then, the computer's on the blink. Not a problem, it should get fixed anytime. I wait for an hour. No one has a fscking clue as to what is going on. I am told, I can get my job done at My Neighborhood DMV.

Next day, MN DMV says, your file opened at Trenton can be only closed there, so go back there. They were polite, but that does not make my drive back any shorter. Common sense, anyone?. Just give the poor sod his license, since his paperwork seems in order. For all their well-meaning courtesy, they couldn't . The system isn't engineered to handle a file opened in Trenton, the computer going down, and restoring the file in South Plainfield. All those transactions in my Distributed Systems class begin to make sense now. Only, when the system went down, or was down, the transaction should have been rolled back. Maybe Raj should have been designing the system. (bad joke,forget it)

Anyway, the point is , when all power has been invested in the computer, you take away the brains and the discretionary power an official has. Which is a good thing for corrupt places like India right now, because you are putting things in the hands of a neutral authority. But, when the system fails, there should be enough procedures to account for that, so that Your Neighborhood government official isn't left with that "deer caught in headlight" look in his eyes.

1 comment:

aMitV said...

NJ DMV .. hmm.. they cancel ur DL everytime ur visa expires n worst thing u have to go back to NJ to renew evenif one has moved from NJ ..