We knew on Sept. 11 that the world had changed and that the effects of the terrorist attacks would be significant and long lasting. We just didnt know by how much and how long. Some people are trying to forget the attacks, but many others can never forget.
Count the assembled at the Twelfth Conference on Computers, Freedom & Privacy among the latter. Last week in San Francisco, nary a conversation, speech or roundtable discussion was uttered without some form of the phrase “since 9/11.” While many of us can go about our lives without thinking (too much) about the effects of 9/11, those who work at the nexus of technology, security and privacy cannot, for everything the government has done in reaction to the attacks intersects all those areas.
And yet, these areas remain at odds about how to work together without compromising one another. The question at hand was how to use technology responsibly to make citizens safe without compromising Fourth Amendment rights. Most here think technology is winning, the Constitution is losing and were no more secure for it.
The cry that came out last fall to put an ID badge on everyone has gone nowhere, according to experts at the conference, and the only real advocates are vendors that stand to profit from producing the technology for the badges. Two reports—accessible via www.eweek.com/links—argue that the thinking behind national IDs as a means to keep terrorists out of the country is ad hoc and unrealistic.
The issue that really raised hackles at the conference was the USA Patriot Act of last fall, which gives law enforcement officials new, broad authority to snoop on citizens and suspected terrorists but which some said is an exercise in grabbing more power. Jerry Berman, chairman of the Center for Democracy and Technology, argued that law enforcement officials already had sufficient power before 9/11 to gather the kind of information that could have prevented the attacks.
If security solutions do emerge that can reconcile the cross-purposes of security and privacy, they will come from those who have an acute understanding of all the issues. “The challenge is to develop a new mind-set, where security and privacy are complementary, not opposites,” said Ann Cavoukian, information and privacy commissioner for the province of Ontario. “They are yin and yang, two sides to the same problem.”
Are we more or less secure since the 9/11 attacks? Write to me at scot_ firstname.lastname@example.org.