By Rich Grady, AppGeo President
Is there a coordinated response that society should take when confronted by the threat of terror to protect privacy while assuring security? In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, many people are asking this question. The value of video coverage and digital photography was clearly high in identifying the culprits, and has spawned considerable discussion about how pervasive ongoing surveillance of our public places should be. I believe it is our responsibility as geospatial professionals to be aware of and help shape these wide-reaching security and privacy issues and possible solutions.
There is a popular viewpoint that increased security can diminish privacy. For example, the cover story of May 13, 2013 issue of Time Magazine was titled, “Homeland Security: Do We Need to Sacrifice Privacy to Be Safer?” The article published the results of a recent Time/CNN/ORC poll, in which only 40% of the survey respondents said they were willing to give up some civil liberties if that were necessary to curb terrorism, as compared to 57% who were willing to sacrifice in 1995. In this same poll, 61% of the respondents were more worried that the government would enact excessive antiterrorism policies than fail to enact strong policies. As Americans, we like our civil liberties and freedom, and don’t want to give up these rights to “Big Brother”, which was George Orwell’s term for the all-seeing authority figure in his novel, 1984, written in 1949. The book was about a society in which everyone was under complete surveillance – a scary thought after the global battle against Totalitarianism in World War II. And today, almost 30 years after the year for which his book was named, both public and private surveillance is commonplace.
Personally, I am not particularly worried about our government being in the surveillance business, as long as its purpose is to improve our safety and security, which has been a long-standing tradition. And I do not entirely believe that privacy and security are inversely related. Many things that individuals do in their own home to increase security can serve to increase privacy too, like fences, locks, and doors. In public places, I assume that I might be under surveillance as a member of the public, but that it is for a specific purpose – to improve my safety. I would be less tolerant if I felt harassed and infringed upon, or if my freedom of movement was unduly restricted.
In our free and open society, it is difficult, if not impossible, to prevent all bad people from doing bad things, but we expect our government to provide public safety and homeland security as a public good. It is our government, and when we don’t like its behavior, we can change it through the democratic process and the courts if need be. And at times, it is self-correcting, as with the recent scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) over singling out conservative groups. Over-zealousness or politically biased purpose can be a problem, creating deviation from intended purpose in a way that is not beneficial, and instead, potentially harmful. continue reading...