Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Blowing a whistle on the ‘big data’ debate, which forgets 9/11

Another Sep. 11, 2001, could have far greater costs to civil liberties than the US government’s data mining, leading even to the end of open society as we know it

By Thomas Friedman  /  NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

We do need to be constantly on guard for abuses.

However, the fact is, Simon added, that for at least the last two presidencies, “this kind of data collection has been a baseline logic of an American anti-terrorism effort that is effectively asked to find the needles before they are planted into haystacks, to prevent even such modest, grass-rooted conspiracies as the Boston Marathon bombing before they occur.”

To be sure, secret programs, like the virtually unregulated drone attacks, can lead to real excesses that have to be checked, but here is what is also real, Simon concluded: “Those planes really did hit those buildings. And that bomb did indeed blow up at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. And we really are in a continuing, low-intensity, high-risk conflict with a diffuse, committed and ideologically motivated enemy. And, for a moment, just imagine how much bloviating would be wafting across our political spectrum if, in the wake of an incident of domestic terrorism, a US president and his administration had failed to take full advantage of the existing telephonic data to do what is possible to find those needles in the haystacks.”

And, I would add, not just bloviating. Imagine how many real restrictions to our beautiful open society we would tolerate if there were another attack on the scale of Sept. 11. Pardon me if I blow that whistle.

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