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Privacy Was in Danger Before 9-11

This week I participated in an online panel put on by the Information Security Buzz website. I got the following question:

What 2 things are most likely to change the security industry in the next 2 years? And why?

The question immediately made me think of the state of privacy. My full answer is here. As to the privacy issue, I answered:

After 9-11, privacy got shafted in the rush to build tougher security, but we've seen how that has led to governments abusing authority. The NSA case is a prime example, though outrage over TSA tactics in the airports had already started the ball rolling. In the next two years watch for today's outraged reactions to translate into new policies governing privacy.

Privacy is a subject I've tackled a lot over the years. When I was at CSOonline.com, I wrote a story called "6 ways we gave up our privacy." In it, I focused on how people have almost willingly given up privacy in the rush to be seen and heard on the likes of Facebook and Twitter. I've also argued several times that Americans willingly gave up a lot of privacy out of fear in the aftermath of 9-11

I do believe the outrage over the NSA's PRISM program is swinging the pendulum back in the other direction, and that may ultimately lead to new privacy safeguards. 

All that said, it's worth noting that privacy was under threat before 9-11. The issue was framed succinctly in a 1999 episode of The West Wing called "The Short List." In it, the West Wing staff are focusing on nominating a judge for the Supreme Court. They discover a writing from the judge in which he essentially endorses the idea of invading individual privacy in certain cases. The fictional presidential aide Sam Seaborn says:

Twenties and thirties, it was the role of government. Fifties and sixties, it was civil rights. The next two decades, it's gonna be privacy. I'm talking about the Internet. I'm talking about cellphones. I'm talking about health records, and who's gay and who's not. And moreover, in a country born on a will to be free, what could be more fundamental than this?

Prophetic words. From a TV show.

Food for thought.


 




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