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CPSR Journal Vol 19, No 4
Volume 19, Number 4 The CPSR Journal Fall 2001

Information Ethics in the Aftermath of September 11 by Sarr Blumson

[ Read the program notes ]

The first session on Friday afternoon was a panel, “Information Ethics in the Aftermath of 9/11,” chaired by CPSR President Coralee Whitcomb. Ms. Whitcomb opened the session with an introduction to CPSR and to the conference, stressing our obligation to help create an informed response to the events of September 11.

The first panelist was Abdul Alkalimat, Professor of Africana Studies and Sociology and Director of the Africana Studies program at the University of Toledo. Prof. Alkalimat argued that democracy is our greatest security, and that as technologists we have to decide whether we are consultants to power or agents of the people. When so much of our national media views it’s role as mobilizing patriotic hysteria and providing apologetics for national policy, we have the power to help level the information playing field because we control the “presses” of the 21st century. He suggested that our goal should be to increase use and availability of existing technology through community technology and education, adding that it is a global issue, not just a North American issue. We need mechanisms that make information available across languages and cultures.

The second panelist was Jean Camp, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University. Prof. Camp emphasized that that the choice between "freedom and security" that we are being offered is illusory, because while the freedoms we are being asked to sacrifice are real the security we are being offered is not.

Peter Hope-Tindall, Chief Privacy Architect at dataPrivacy Partners Ltd. of Canada, suggested that invasive security measures are inevitable; the desire for for them is too widespread. Our role is to ensure that the measures chosen are focused and balanced with privacy, measured and appropriate, and provide a tangible increase in security.

Nathaniel Borenstein, Research Scientist at the University of Michigan and President of, argued that liberty and privacy are not the same. Privacy is a social construct and exists by custom, but can never be protected by laws because information flows by nature. Our society needs privacy because it is our protection against intolerance; the solution is tolerance.

A member of the audience mentioned that while “national ID cards” are controversial in the United States they are routine and accepted in Europe.

A member of the audience emphasized that the fundamental issue isn’t what information is collected, but rather the existence of a single key (e.g. the national ID card number) that gives access to everything.

Another member of the audience suggested that the problem is that there are currently no serious penalties for misuse of data.

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