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Social Issues

All too often, people in the IT sphere overlook the social aspect of an issue, giving greater concentration to technology issues. In protecting the U.S. from attack, however, the non-IT hurdles are at least as high as the IT hurdles.

Turf Warfare

Have you ever heard the expression "Siblings will hit you harder than your enemies"? This statement may well apply to government. The difficulties in getting numerous government agencies to agree to link up their databases escape no one:

  • Why would any agency share their information assets—their "turf"—with another agency?

  • In such a relationship, who would have ownership of the information? Whose turf would it be?

If the 9/11 disaster doesn't get people to put the nation's interests ahead of their own, however, nothing will. There has already been movement toward having the far-flung agencies of the federal government work together to improve their communication and cooperation with state and local governments and private enterprise. Such reports are encouraging.

In this light, perhaps the creation of a new government department is the best approach. Create a new department, make it a bigger bully than the other bullies on the playground (at least as far as its homeland security agenda), and allow it to force others to play by its rules.

Privacy: Get Out of My Business

There are privacy issues with the creation of a database storing all this information. In fact, privacy concerns kept the government from creating such databases in the past. In 1965, data was being collected and stored by numerous agencies across the government in an inefficient and often overlapping manner. The Dunn Report, issued by the Bureau of the Budget, suggested that in the interest of efficiency it would be wise to create a National Data Center to serve as a single repository for collecting and storing such data. The suggestion was met with bipartisan condemnation, and the suggested National Data Center never came to pass.

On the other hand, businesses and individuals have many concerns about government knowing and tracking our activities and interests. Such concerns have often been reflected in the media (think about films such as The Net).

Ultimately, we need assurances that this information is being used to defend all Americans, our resources, our nation, and our way of life—and simultaneously that such data is not being distorted or abused in a manner that violates our civil liberties or the freedoms and values we hold dear and fundamental.

Civil Liberties

Some of the privacy issues boil over into the realm of civil liberties. Specific concerns include the possibility of government using collected information to make preemptive arrests and strikes against individuals or groups who are plotting against the U.S. but haven't actually committed a crime or broken a law. This is especially problematic if that information and its analysis may not be entirely accurate, or its source may not be admissible under the laws of our judicial system.

The civil liberties issues will require great public debate. Where do the civil liberties and rights of groups and individuals end, and the right of the government and the people to protect themselves from harm—especially 9/11–type harm—begin? How does this argument change if the group or individual affected is not a citizen, or has clearly expressed greater allegiance with another organization, group, or nation that has declared war (especially a holy war) against us?

But InformIT is a technology-centric web site. By now, I'm sure you're wondering about the technology issues and are content to let me defray further civil liberties arguments until another article.

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