TUCoPS :: Privacy :: priv1009.txt

Privacy Digest 10.09 Sep.23/01

PRIVACY Forum Digest     Sunday, 23 September 2001     Volume 10 : Issue 09

                (<A HREF="http://www.vortex.com/privacy/priv.10.09">http://www.vortex.com/privacy/priv.10.09</A>)

            Moderated by Lauren Weinstein (<A HREF="mailto:lauren@vortex.com">lauren@vortex.com</A>)         
              Vortex Technology, Woodland Hills, CA, U.S.A.
                         <A HREF="http://www.vortex.com">http://www.vortex.com</A> 
                       ===== PRIVACY FORUM =====              

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        PFIR Statement on Terrorism, Civil Liberties, and the Internet
           (PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility)

 *** Please include a RELEVANT "Subject:" line on all submissions! ***
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The Internet PRIVACY Forum is a moderated digest for the discussion and
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full keyword searching of all PRIVACY Forum files is available via
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     Quote for the day:

        "And maybe there's no peace in this world, for us or for anyone
         else, I don't know.  But I do know that, as long as we live, 
         we must remain true to ourselves."

                -- Spartacus (Kirk Douglas)
                   "Spartacus" (Universal; 1960)


Date:    Sun, 23 Sep 2001 22:30:35 PDT
From:    <A HREF="mailto:pfir@pfir.org">pfir@pfir.org</A> (PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility)
Subject: PFIR Statement on Terrorism, Civil Liberties, and the Internet

          PFIR Statement on Terrorism, Civil Liberties, and the Internet

                              September 23, 2001

                   <A HREF="http://www.pfir.org/statements/liberties">http://www.pfir.org/statements/liberties</A>

        PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - <A HREF="http://www.pfir.org">http://www.pfir.org</A>

        [ To subscribe or unsubscribe to/from this list, please send the
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In the wake of the horrendous attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon
on September 11th, both politicians and the media have been effusive in using
the word "war" to describe the resulting state of affairs.  CNN's
tagline--"America's New War"--has been present almost continuously on-air,
sandwiched of course between commercials for herbal sexual enhancement
supplements and other product promotions.

That "war" would be the term of choice rising from the grief, anger, and
frustration of that grim Tuesday was perhaps inevitable, but unfortunately
misleading as well.  Unlike the previous centuries' World Wars, or even
undeclared wars like Korea or Vietnam, the battles with terrorism will be
very different indeed.  The "war on terrorism" is much akin to the "war on
drugs" (there's still lots of illicit drug use), the "war on crime" (we see
plenty of crime to go around), and the "war on poverty" (hungry people still
abound).  Achieving justice for those killed and a safer world for the
future is not really a war, but will rather be the continuation of a
permanent, complex, and expensive process.  This process is unfortunately
difficult to explain or demonstrate in comparison to quick battles and
push-button bombings, particularly when calls for revenge (the dark and
dangerous stepchild of justice) are so rampant.

The war drums also bring forth some of the very troubling aspects of
humanity as well.  Calls for a "holy war" are echoing widely in the Islamic
world, as the conception spreads that a war against terrorists could
actually end up being a war against Islam or Muslim cultures in general.
Even if we assume such an assumption to be totally unfounded, its power and
impact is vast.

In the West, innocent persons have been attacked and killed merely for
wearing Muslim accoutrements, and passengers have been forcibly removed from
planes preparing for takeoff simply because the other passengers "weren't
comfortable" with them being on board.  Hate crimes are rising
rapidly--mostly against persons who just don't "look right" in the eyes of
those around them.  A Middle-Eastern appearance?  Looking at your watch too
often?  Speaking an Arabic language?  All of these now seem to be grounds for
unreasoning hatred and panic.  

Such reactions may perhaps be fueled by comments like those made by a U.S.
Congressman in a September 17th radio interview, during which he spoke
disparagingly about anyone wearing "a diaper on his head and a fan belt
wrapped around the diaper."  In one fell swoop he managed to deprecate a
vast population and its religious practices.  Are we seeing the rise of the
same reasoning that led to the imprisonment of American citizens after Pearl
Harbor, for the simple reason that their heritage was Japanese?  

Calls for quick action against suspected enemies during "wartime" are of
course expected, but history demonstrates that the numerous knee-jerk
reactions during such periods are often misguided and counterproductive.  In
reality there are two battles going on right now.  The first is a necessary
fight against terrorism.  The second is a "war" against civil liberties,
using the recent attacks as an excuse to begin the wholesale gutting of
exactly those aspects of American society that we most desperately need to

A look at just a sampling of the comprehensive and permanent police
powers now being requested by the U.S. government is instructive:

  - Essentially unlimited detention without charge or trial for
    immigrants--including legal immigrants, based even on suspicion--no real
    evidence need be shown

  - Loosening the rules of evidence--even permitting the use of evidence
    obtained through human rights violations in other countries (in practice
    that could mean evidence obtained through torture in many parts of the

  - A wide range of new surveillance authorities are requested, including
    new wiretapping provisions for telephones and voicemail, and an array of
    new powers relating to the Internet.  Some of the latter involve
    expansions of "no court order required" Internet (e.g. "Carnivore")
    monitoring, including e-mail headers (To, From, Subject, etc.) and the
    URLs accessed by Web users.  Such URL tracking provides the capability
    for generating an extremely detailed record of users' Web browsing and
    other related activities--sites and pages visited, keywords entered to
    search engines, and in some cases other input data as well.

And there's lots more...  What's especially interesting when you dig down
into the details of the proposals, which the administration wants on the
ultimate of fast tracks, is how many of the requested items actually have
little or nothing to do with real terrorism.  The term "terrorism" is being
used so loosely that the proposed provisions could apparently be applied to
a bored 13-year-old who defaces a Web site, or to a non-violent anti-war
protester at a rally being closed down by the authorities as an "illegal
assembly."  While both of these individuals may have violated laws,
are they terrorists?  Of course not.

What we really see in the new proposals is a "grab bag" long in the making.
It's a law enforcement "wish list" (many items of which have been soundly
rejected in the past) that far predates the attacks on September 11th, now
being rammed through the legislative process as quickly as possible during a
time of high emotion.  This in and of itself does not necessarily invalidate
everything on that list.  We may as a society determine that some of the
less controversial (that is, less liberty-damaging) suggestions have a
degree of merit, to be subjected to due consideration, modification, and if
passed into law suitable court review as required. 

But the wholesale "we gotta have all of this right now" argument falls flat
on its face, especially given that many of the provisions would have vast
and permanent civil-liberties implications, yet seemingly not actually
protect us from terrorism.  It's important to keep in mind that all of the
concerns that existed prior to September 11th about the potential abuse of
such powers are <B>still</B> valid today.  In fact, in such an emotionally-charged
atmosphere, those concerns may be more valid than ever before.

We're told that the proposed police powers expansions are but the beginning
of such proposals, and indeed there have already been calls for additional
measures of equal or even greater concern.  Billionaire Oracle Chairman and
CEO Larry Ellison has apparently joined the "nuts to privacy" fraternity--
he's now calling for a national, computerized ID card complete with
thumbprint, which would enable easy tracking of everyone's movements.  This
could be especially handy for some future, less-enlightened government when
it comes to rounding up those pesky voters or protesters who don't agree
with your policies, or others on a future version of something like Richard
Nixon's "enemies list."  Ellison has even offered to make the software for
such an ID system available for free!  Gee, thanks a whole bunch
Larry--we'll be getting back to you...

There have also been the inevitable "The Internet is the root of all evil"
proponents, echoing down from history the concerns of benign rulers and
tyrants alike who just <B>knew</B> that if we could somehow keep people from
communicating with each other privately, the world would be a much safer and
more stable place.  Much attention for now has focused on encryption, with
calls to ban those forms of strong encryption that cannot be monitored by the
government (or also, we might note, by sufficiently industrious criminals,
hackers, or even terrorists who would crack into the mandated "back doors" of
such weakened systems).

Let's ignore for the moment the lack of evidence suggesting that encryption
played a significant role in the events of September 11th.  Let's also ignore
for now the effective capability to completely hide even the mere existence
of encrypted messages within photos or other media using "steganographic"
techniques.  An irrefutable fact still emerges--it is impossible to put the
genie of encryption back into its bottle. 

The techniques for strong encryption are now widely known and can be
implemented on any PC or handheld computer.  Attempts to outlaw, weaken, or
mandate surveillance "back-doors" for such systems can only result in the
vast honest population being saddled with vulnerable encryption systems for
commerce and a wide range of other communications both on and off the
Internet, all subject to a wide array of monitoring.  Such surveillance
could be instigated not only by "benign" governments, but also by a range of
private parties who would inevitably penetrate the back-doors of such
systems, not to mention other governments and entities (either now or in the
future) who most decidedly won't be benign in nature.  

The hands of mankind are soaked with the blood of millennia.  Untold millions
have died from a complex and interacting panorama of crime, weaponry, wars,
poverty, and yes, terrorism in all its forms.  Our success as a species in
meting out justice for those stilled voices, as opposed to retribution or
revenge, has been limited at best.  Now, as we approach the challenge of
charting a course for the future, with the stink of burning flesh and jet
fuel still overwhelming our hearts and minds, we find ourselves again faced
with the old choices.

In our clearly righteous quest to demand justice for the victims of
terrorism, we do not necessarily have to repeat the mistakes of the past.
The battle against terrorism will indeed sometimes be bloody, and sometimes
largely invisible.  It will be a process, not an event--a state of mind, not
really a war.  Part of that process will involve an awareness that terrorism
is the result of both attitudes and situations that are not always obvious,
often are difficult to understand, and usually not subject to simple
"solutions" of any sort.  The most difficult task facing us is to achieve
our goals in this battle without destroying the better parts of ourselves in
the process.  We have our work cut out for us.

If we choose to adopt attitudes like "they didn't care about killing women
and children, so we'll do the same back to them," then in the name of
accepting "collateral damage" we'll have excised a significant chunk of our
humanity and handed it to the terrorists as a trophy.  If we allow our civil
liberties to erode in the name of expedience and an illusionary veneer of
security, we'll be denigrating those very aspects of our society that are
among the most precious concepts we fight to protect, not only for today but
for untold future generations as well.  Such paths may appeal to both our
anger and fear, but choosing them condemns us to nothing but Pyrrhic
victories, for we will gradually become that which we despise, and terrorism
will have triumphed after all.

  - - - - - 

Lauren Weinstein
<A HREF="mailto:lauren@pfir.org">lauren@pfir.org</A> or <A HREF="mailto:lauren@vortex.com">lauren@vortex.com</A> or <A HREF="mailto:lauren@privacyforum.org">lauren@privacyforum.org</A>
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - <A HREF="http://www.pfir.org">http://www.pfir.org</A>
Co-Founder, Fact Squad - <A HREF="http://www.factsquad.org">http://www.factsquad.org</A>
Moderator, PRIVACY Forum - <A HREF="http://www.vortex.com">http://www.vortex.com</A>
Member, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy

Peter G. Neumann
<A HREF="mailto:neumann@pfir.org">neumann@pfir.org</A> or <A HREF="mailto:neumann@csl.sri.com">neumann@csl.sri.com</A> or <A HREF="mailto:neumann@risks.org">neumann@risks.org</A>
Tel: +1 (650) 859-2375
Co-Founder, PFIR - People For Internet Responsibility - <A HREF="http://www.pfir.org">http://www.pfir.org</A>
Co-Founder, Fact Squad - <A HREF="http://www.factsquad.org">http://www.factsquad.org</A>
Moderator, RISKS Forum - <A HREF="http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks">http://catless.ncl.ac.uk/Risks</A>
Chairman, ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
<A HREF="http://www.csl.sri.com/neumann">http://www.csl.sri.com/neumann</A>


End of PRIVACY Forum Digest 10.09

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