September 17, 2001

Thousands dead, millions deprived of civil liberties?

Author: JT Smith

- By Richard Stallman-

The worst damage from many nerve injuries is secondary -- it happens in
the hours after the initial trauma, as the body's reaction to the
damage kills more nerve cells. Researchers are beginning to discover
ways to prevent this secondary damage and reduce the eventual harm.

If we are not careful, the deadly attacks on New York and Washington
will lead to far worse secondary damage, if the U.S. Congress adopts
"preventive measures" that take away the freedom that America stands
for.

I'm not talking about searches at airports here. Searches of people
or baggage for weapons, as long as they check only for weapons and
keep no records about you if you have no weapons, are just an
inconvenience; they do not endanger civil liberties. What I am
worried about is massive surveillance of all aspects of life: of our
phone calls, of our email, and of our physical movements.

These measures are likely to be recommended regardless of whether they
would be effective for their stated purpose. An executive of a
company developing face recognition software is said to be telling
reporters that widespread deployment of face-recognizing computerized
cameras would have prevented the attacks. The September 15 New York
Times cites a congressman who is advocating this "solution." Given
that the human face recognition performed by the check-in agents did
not keep the hijackers out, there is no reason to think that computer
face recognition would help. But that won't stop the agencies that
have always wanted to do more surveillance from pushing this plan now,
and many other plans like it. To stop them will require public
opposition.

Even more ominously, a proposal to
require government back doors in encryption software
has already
appeared.

Meanwhile, Congress hurried to pass a resolution giving Bush unlimited
power to use military force in retaliation for the attacks.
Retaliation may be justified, if the perpetrators can be identified
and carefully targeted, but Congress has a duty to scrutinize specific
measures as they are proposed. Handing the president carte blanche in
a moment of anger is exactly the mistake that led the United States into the
Vietnam War.

Please let your elected representatives, and your unelected president,
know that you don't want your civil liberties to become the
terrorists' next victim. Don't wait -- the bills are already being
written.

Copyright 2001 Richard Stallman
Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article are permitted
in any medium provided the copyright notice and this notice are
preserved.

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