Responding to a question about how to ensure technology is not misused to violate privacy, Paul Rosenzweig, a senior legal research follow at conservative think-tank Heritage Foundation, said Thursday that putting the brakes on technologies such as the proposed Total Information Awareness (TIA) program in the U.S. Department of Defense is not the answer.
"I think the answer ... is not prohibition, but you folks out here: extensive oversight, use of the mechanisms of Congress and the courts to restrain the misuses of power," Rosenzweig said to a room full of congressional staffers at a Congressional Internet Caucus luncheon on security against terrorism and privacy.
But Lance Hoffman, a computer science professor at George Washington University, questioned whether laws passed by Congress could keep pace with new technologies, including TIA and the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) proposed by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration. He cited the example of file-trading on the Internet, where proposed laws have not been able to stop the illegal downloading of music.
"[Technology researchers] are pretty much under the radar screen until we do something that so changes things that we technologists are then noticed all of a sudden by legislators," Hoffman said. "Let me tell you, by that time, it's too late."
In addition to the lunch session at the Capitol, hours after the U.S. fired the opening shots in a war against Iraq, software vendor webMethods hosted a panel discussion, "Homeland security: Can technology make us safer?" featuring five national security experts Thursday morning.
James Gilmore, chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Terrorism and a former governor of
"Today, we have the capability of putting a camera almost everywhere," Gilmore said. "Do you believe that you would conduct yourself differently if you were on camera than if you weren't? I think so ... it wouldn't necessarily be something legal or illegal, but it would be different."
Although no one can guarantee a country's total security, technology could potentially come close, Gilmore noted. "You'd give up everything by way of individuality, privacy, anonymity ... and even then you would not have total security."
Gilmore urged the technology executives in the audience to keep privacy and other civil liberties in mind when they design systems to protect against terrorism. "I believe that as citizens we have an obligation ... to try to put together both security and freedom at the same time," he said. "That, it seems to me, is the great goal we as Americans have now: trying to figure out how we can maintain our character and values as Americans while at the same time we apply technology to make us safer. That is a challenge that isn't much being discussed, and I don't think we have very many solutions."