Security and Privacy Lost

Nurturing the Cybercommons 1981-2001, Ann Arbor, MI. 19-21 October 2001. October 19-21, 2001

As I drove home in the rain last weekend, after a full day in the pumpkin fields and apple orchards of Massachusetts, the flags hanging limp and wet in the darkness did not reflect the glory of the United States. Under the passing glare of the headlights, the neglected and sodden flags reflected the failures of our leaders as embodied in the recent terrorism bills.

Ben Franklin’s highly quotable phrase, declaring that those would exchange privacy for security deserve neither, do not seem to have sprung from a parent’s fragile and fierce heart in these days of turmoil. I would trade my privacy, or even my life, for my family’s safety. Yet instead, we have lost privacy for the profits of the companies which failed us, and for the privilege of failed agencies to create further foreign policy disasters without troublesome democratic supervision. We have not exchanged privacy for security but rather we have loss privacy and decreased security in airport security, computer security, and foreign policy in America’s national interests. Safety in this modern connected world requires security and privacy.

In the case of airports, the bill did not Federalize airport security as every terrorism report has recommended for decades. However, travelers do now have military police supervising as we show identification several times in the ticketing and boarding process. On October 16 I was required to provide identification to an armed Army MP, and for the first time I was afraid to speak up to a representative of the government. Showing identification does nothing to improve airline safety, yet unlike well-trained Federal airport security, reinforcing cabin doors, and examining all luggage, it is cheap. In fact showing identification many times saves airlines money since it prevents the exchange of unused tickets by travelers. Privacy is lost; civilians are subject to military law; and money is saved by the companies which tragically failed the nation on September 11. The airlines are acting to profit for every life lost, while doing nothing to prevent a repeat.

In the case of computer networks the FBI has demanded that surveillance be built in to all Internet service providers. No internet service provider has refused to cooperate with surveillance requests, yet the FNI has received surveillance capacity without the active interaction of the network services provider . This means that network service providers cannot ensure the security of their own networks, The same day this new policy was announced the news was filled with coverage of the Taliban’s use of classified software developed by the FBI for tracking suspicious transactions. Now, not only is it expensive and time-consuming to secure critically important computer networks it is illegal. Any doors built in for the use of the FBI will certainly be discovered and used by terrorists. Privacy is decreased, and security is decreased by the same stroke of a pen.

In another loss of freedom and security the transparency and oversight of international intelligence activities was lessened. Yet the intelligence agencies should be more closely examined. There was no law preventing the use of information about terrorist attacks provided by allied European intelligence agencies; in particular information about people who are not protected as citizens by our Constitution. In fact, increased oversight and public awareness could have decreased the American aid to the Taliban which flowed until September tenth. Feminists, who President Clinton critically needed in his corner, would have been appalled had the secret flow of money to the vicious Taliban regime been public. The flow of money to the Taliban and to the religious schools that teach hatred instead of mathematics could have been cut had it been public. Yet now, the possibility of oversight has been decreased even more. No organization increases its internal efficiency without review or oversight. There is no reason to believe that information will be any more effectively used by the agencies which failed us all on September 11.

Security cost money; yet money can be made by violations of privacy. With the new terrorism law privacy is decreased in the interests of the airlines, private airline security agencies, and opponents of democratic oversight in intelligence agencies. All these organizations failed America critically on September 11, 2001. All are being rewarded for their failures.

In the back of the car my children sleep soundly, safely strapped in, after a full day. The children have been lulled by the sound of rain, yet adults know that wetter roads are more dangerous. As adults we should not be lulled by a loss of privacy but understand when we are made us less safe. I will sleep less soundly, knowing how completely our family has been failed by American political leadership in the aftermath of Sept. 11. The nation is speeding headlong down a dangerous track.

Jean Camp is a Professor in the Kennedy School of Government and a Director of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility.