Security, Privacy and Fear

The attack on the World Trade Center towers in NY on Sept. 11 has raised security concerns on many fronts. People are crying out in outrage against further security measures- online and offline [1]. This attitude is also echoed by John Perry Barlow, an outspoken Internet rights activist, whom I have cited and respect greatly. Other authors echo this sentiment as well. [2]

Security seems to be gained only at the expense of privacy. Privacy, however, is one right, or freedom that people seem opposed to giving up. Nevertheless, I would like to argue in security’s favor.

Take Biometrics, for example (see Reports, Biometric Systems, April 2001). Hand recognition technology checks a live sample against a template. There are two ways the template issue can be handled- the first way is that everyone in the template database is “ok”- which means that criminals or “unethical” individuals would not be included. Not being in the database would raise an alarm. The second way is that only “known criminals” are in the database- unless you are one of these criminals, you don’t set off an alarm because you are not a criminal. This second method rewards those who are not in the database with access- not a likely solution to stop criminals- who would stop at nothing to stay out of that database.

The first scenario is the most likely to be used. Everyone will be in the database. Only criminals will not want to appear- and when they try to get on a plane or make a bank transaction an alarm will be set off because of their ABSENCE in the system.

Everyone seems to be so afraid that his movements will be monitored. I have sad news for them- their movements, like yours and mine, are already monitored. The first thing I give Delta Airlines when I check in is my frequent flyer miles card. Delta knows who I am, how often I fly, what routes I normally fly, what time of year I fly, etc. How does biometric recognition or security systems change that? Well, they don’t. It just keeps some who SAYS they are Jason Ball from flying the plane into a building.

The same goes for a bank account. The first thing I do when I go to a bank is present my identification card. Why? Well, for my own protection. I’m perfectly happy presenting an ID to confirm that it is ME taking money out of the account. How does biometric recognition change that? It doesn’t. The bank already knows when I take out money, deposit money, how much money I make every year, etc. What “liberty” have I lost? The only difference is that someone would have to cut my finger off and then walk into the bank with a drippy, bloody finger to take out some money. That’s not going to happen anytime in the near future…at least I hope not.

Another touchy subject is e-mail correspondence. Ok, let’s be honest. How many people reading this RIGHT NOW use encrypted email? Oh, none of you. Just like me. Well, anyone that wants to read your email CAN read your email. Is that such a big deal? Maybe, if you’re the President of a country or large corporation. But most of us aren’t Presidents, so our email contents aren’t that important and unimportant email ISN’T what filtering systems are looking for.

So, relax. New security measures REALLY are for your protection. And after all, you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide…

Until next time, Happy Paranoia!

Jason Ball

[1] “Will Attack Hurt Net Privacy?” Tom Spring and Frank Thorsberg, Wednesday, September 12, 2001

[2] “Technology’s Role to Grow in a New World of Security” By William Glaberson, The New York Times September 18, 2001

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