WATPA: CPSR's Response to September 11th Events (fwd)

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From: William Langham (blangham@westnet.com)
Date: Wed Sep 26 2001 - 22:05:35 EDT

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: 20 Sep 2001 17:37:35 -0000
From: sevoy@quark.cpsr.org
To: colleagues@quark.cpsr.org
Subject: CPSR's Response to September 11th Events

Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility shares in the
worldwide shock and horror in response to the September 11
terrorists attacks. As computer professionals, we are deeply
saddened to see the use of technology for such destructive purposes.
We hope to see technologists helping, perhaps in minor but
important roles, in restoring infrastructure and preventing future

The events of the past week have left Americans from preschoolers to
policy-makers confused, scared, and searching for appropriate
responses. Although the desire for swift action is understandable,
decisions made at this time may affect our world for years to
come. As we formulate reactions to these attacks, we should consider
the reasoning behind these decisions, and work to avoid simplistic

The world we live in is one of advanced communications and computer
technology that may seem threatening. It has only been a few days
since the hijackings, but the Senate has already passed legislation
increasing federal wiretap powers, and new legislation to limit the
use of cryptography has been discussed.

It's certainly true that cryptography and the Internet could be used
as tools for planning of terror. However, these tools serve useful,
valid purposes that should be protected. On September 11, we learned
the awesome destructive potential that commercial jetliners have when
used as weapons, but no serious commentators have suggested banning
passenger airplanes. Cryptography and email have been lifelines for
oppressed peoples fearing reprisals for open communications.

Used correctly, encryption technologies might even be powerful weapons
in the fight against terrorism, as concerned individuals in areas
occupied by terrorists might provide valuable information via
encrypted channels.

Increases in the use of Internet surveillance technologies like
Carnivore and new limits of encryption are short-term actions that
may have the appearance of bold action, but their value is limited and
their costs may be real.

New legislation allowing the increased use of surveillance in order to
track terrorists has been discussed. Protection of civil liberties
requires that any such legislation should be narrow in scope and duration.

These hijackings also demonstrate the shortcomings of the National
Missile Defense proposals. Space-based missile systems could not have
prevented hijackers from taking over the planes. Even if an NMD system
had been in place, and the planes had been tracked, it's far from
clear that they could have been shot down without causing death and
destruction comparable to - if not worse than - that which happened
during the crashes.

This is not to say that there is no role for thoughtful use of
technology in trying to prevent future terrorist actions. Improved
security scanners, passenger "panic buttons" on airlines, cross-checks
between passenger names and FBI "watch lists" are just few of the
tools that might be implemented to increase airline security and
reduce the latitude for future attacks.

Tradeoffs between liberty and security are not appropriate if the
liberty lost is real and the security gained is illusory. Political,
military, and business leaders should work towards solutions that
will provide meaningful security while respecting civil liberties.

> Susan Evoy * Managing Director
> http://www.cpsr.org/home.html
> Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
> P.O. Box 717 * Palo Alto * CA * 94302
> Phone: (650) 322-3778 * Fax: (650) 322-4748 *
Email: evoy@cpsr.org

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