Security Is at Odds With Personal Freedom

 
 
By John Taschek  |  Posted 2001-10-08
 
 
 

It shouldnt take troubling times to put security at the top of everyones mind. Security is supposed to be thought of as a long-term process, not a series of reactions to specific events that eventually lead to a contraction of interest and an increase in laxness.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may change this and lead to longer-term draconian security measures that could possibly affect personal liberties. If we were to take the pulse of the population right now, wed most likely see that Americans would gladly give up some personal liberties in exchange for security. These same people might also toss out the Bill of Rights, which, of course, was written in troubling times as well.

To those who would give up some liberties, consider Ben Franklins pre-Revolutionary War quote: "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Temporary safety is indeed what were seeking right now. Before the terrorist attacks, corporations were under threat. There are rampant viruses and worms clogging up the Internet; credit card fraud is a several-billion-dollar problem; and there have been dozens of well- publicized attacks on Web sites and company data.

Each of these problems has led to an increase in tactical security measures. Got worms? Get a new anti-virus tool. Got hacked? Put up a new firewall. Thats exactly what companies did, yet the attacks and virulence of worms grow even stronger.

The reaction to the terrorist attacks is accordingly strong, leading us more into a debate about the balance between security and personal freedom. Theres been intense interest in the FBIs Carnivore technology, which is used to scan e-mail messages passed over the public Internet, and the National Security Agencys Echelon, used to eavesdrop on telecommunications.

The latest cry has been for the use of biometric technology to sniff out terrorists in airports and other public places. Visionics, a developer of facial recognition technology, for example, saw a huge increase in interest (and stock value) in the days after the attacks. Iridian, a vendor of iris recognition software, saw a similar response.

But theres no proof that these things work in large public places. (See www.extremetech.com/article/0,3396,s%253D1024%2526a% 253D15070,00.asp and public.wsj.com/sn/y/SB1001549373838543720.html.) In fact, with todays technology, they certainly will not work. The problem is that if they did work, then our personal liberties will be compromised.

Biometric technology is best used for authenticating users on a per-user, per-system basis. In fact, thats what security should be about—authentication and authorization—not profiling and scanning the populace at large.

Rocket Fuel