September 11, 2001
By Stephen Lawton
On Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin
Delano Roosevelt described the attack on Pearl Harbor as "a day that will
live in infamy." So too is Sept. 1, 1939, the day Hitler invaded Poland
and effectively started World War II. Nov. 22, 1963 - the day President
Kennedy was assassinated. Add Sept. 11, 2001 to the list of infamous days
of the past century.
Today's attacks in New York and Washington,
D.C. crystallize one of the arguments that has been raging in Congress
and throughout America about the government's funding of the military:
What kind of potential terrorist attack could occur within our national
borders? In recent years, we've spent billions anticipating a high-tech
attack; President Bush recently said he wants to spend billions more on
the Star Wars defense system.
These attacks underscore that not
all weapons of mass destruction are biological or nuclear, delivered by
high-tech means. We learned that sometimes a weapon of mass destruction
can be something so commonplace that you might not even recognize the
threat when you see it. Today it was a commercial airplane; tomorrow it
might well be a tanker delivering petrol to your local gas station or
the truck carrying propane to the hardware store.
I fear that the fallout of today's events
will be the loss of personal liberties first outlined by our Founding
Fathers. The most vulnerable of these liberties is personal privacy. Here,
the cure could be worse than the disease.
Debates have raged for years concerning
the collection and dissemination of personal information. In California,
several such bills are working their way through the state legislature
and politicians are jockeying for position to negotiate the final details
with the governor.
But whether or not a Web site wants to place
a cookie on your computer seems a little trite today.
Instead, what we have to put into perspective
is what personal information should be collected, how it's collected,
who can access it and what can they do with it once they have it. In a
nutshell, I'm concerned about the use of encryption for personal and business
use and the collection of personal information in some type of national
The knee-jerk reaction here is that all
communications should be subject to government review - there is no personal
privacy. A law that allows the government to access personal and business
communications recently passed in the United Kingdom. The law requires
encryption software developers to provide a "back door" for local, state
and federal agencies; I expect a similar law to be introduced in Congress.
But understand, terrorists don't follow
the law. Sure, we might catch some ne'er-do-wells, but the truly evil
people, those with absolutely no concern for human life, including their
own, will not be stopped by such a law. If individuals and companies are
unable to send secure - encrypted - communications over data lines, be
it the Internet or a private network, it will be a victory for the enemies
of free enterprise and free thought.
We must resist the forces that say that
the only way to be secure is to create a police state, even temporarily.
Once again I recall the sage words of Benjamin Franklin, who said in 1784:
"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary
safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."