Symposium

By Carley, Jeff; harper, james | Insight on the News, December 24, 2002 | Go to article overview

Symposium


Carley, Jeff, harper, james, Insight on the News


Q: Should the White House expand the `Total Information Awareness' project?

YES: The ability to analyze vast amounts of data is essential if we want to safeguard our civil liberties.

On Sept. 11, 2001, the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 rushed their hijackers, who caused the plane to crash into a field about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. What enabled those passengers to take action to try to stop the hijackers, while on three other planes that morning the hijackers were able to strike high-profile targets and kill thousands of people on the ground? Information, in part, was that critical differentiating element. The passengers on Flight 93 had the right information at the right time to make a decision that probably saved hundreds of other American lives. They knew the hijackers were really terrorists who had to be stopped. The passengers were heroes. But I am sure there were brave men and women on the other flights who would have taken similar heroic action had they only known what was intended.

Information proved the critical element in enabling the passengers of Flight 93 to stop the terrorists confronting them. The passengers on the other flights lacked that critical information.

We already have made sacrifices to protect ourselves as a result of the terrorist activities, and we likely will need to make more in the future. War is like that. One example is increased airport security. Those of us who travel by air try to be more tolerant of carry-on-baggage checks, longer lines at security checkpoints and random searches. And if you are flying into Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, be careful not to drink too much coffee, because you will not be allowed to get out of your seat to go to the bathroom during the last half-hour of the flight. Our world has changed in big and little ways. It's not as convenient.

We already have sacrificed some of our privacy rights. War is like that. An appeals court recently ruled that the Justice Department has broad powers to use wiretaps under the USA PATRIOT Act. This will permit us to cast a wider net while looking for possible terrorist activity. Foreign nationals can be held without immediately being charged with a crime. With the passage of the Homeland Security bill, a number of agencies are being realigned, allowing them better to coordinate the information they have about us. These changes would be intolerable were it not for the current situation.

Even so our nation is quite vulnerable to attack. As a freedom-loving people, we do not easily or lightly take the steps necessary to shut down all the possible avenues of attack from terrorists. Why is it necessary that we act now to analyze and use the information available to us? Because our enemy has chosen to hide among us. He pretends to be one of us while planning and preparing for the next attack. He chooses civilian targets of opportunity. He does not put on a uniform that says, "I am your enemy." This war is like that. To protect ourselves we must access and sift through all available information to uncover and thwart the enemies among us.

If we do not find better ways to use the information at hand to identify enemies in our midst, greater restrictions to our civil liberties could be triggered by the next terrorist act. To stop terrorists, the government needs as much information about them as possible. Lacking that information, or the effective use of available information, the government may be forced to place more restrictive and sweeping controls on the entire population.

The broader wiretap authority for the Justice Department is an example of the diminution of our privacy that allows the government to gather the information it needs. The inspections and restrictions involved in air travel are examples of the government controlling the entire population to control the terrorists.

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