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
Copyright 2001 Richard Stallman
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