Leadership Journal Archive
October 12, 2007 - January 19, 2008

September 26, 2007

Privacy And Security

Lock and keyScott McNealy, Chairman of Sun Microsystems, once said, “Privacy is dead, get over it.” He was referring to the unprecedented ability of people and organizations to access information about any one of us.

Privacy is certainly not dead, but our society must go the second mile to protect it. The question that my Department faces is how to do that in our post-9/11 world where the need for greater security is paramount.

I addressed that question today at a conference of privacy commissioners in Montreal. As I noted, part of the answer is obvious. The same terrorist organizations which plot to attack us want to wipe out our liberty, and we don’t intend to make their job any easier by doing it ourselves.

We view privacy as a fundamental human right and that’s why preserving it is an integral part of our mission. Ours is the first federal department with a mandated Chief Privacy Officer. Both here and abroad, DHS is highly acclaimed for its efforts to ensure that our programs are fully vetted for potential privacy violations.

But what about the tension between privacy and security? Is it true that whatever we do to strengthen our security must be at the expense of privacy?

It is not. Our efforts to secure our homeland need not harm our privacy. Rather, in many cases they can actually strengthen it.

A great example is our efforts to create secure identification. By creating secure driver’s licenses and travel documents, we can reduce the egregious privacy violation of identity theft.

Another example is the way we screen the estimated 80 million travelers who fly here annually from other countries. Our strategy is to collect a little information about each visitor--just enough to help us decide who might be a potential security risk. When compared to the alternatives–-searching everyone, searching no one, or the hit-or-miss strategy of random searches--we’ve found that this is the best way to maximize security while at the same time maximizing privacy.

Privacy and security are fundamental rights and we will continue to defend both in our post-9/11 world.

Michael Chertoff

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  • There are weaknesses in this analysis and the Secretary's conclusion that are discussed in this blog post at TechLiberation.com.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At September 27, 2007 5:20 PM  

  • I fail to see how collecting more personal information prevents identity theft. We all know that there is no such thing as a perfect identification. Even biometric identification turns out to be limited in reliability, with fingerprints being just about the worst possible identification method - Most fingerprint sensors are easily fooled with self-made covers made with the help of a laser printer, presentation foils and a bit of silicone glue.

    One thing that should be considered is that it's incredibly difficult to keep vast amounts of accumulated data safe. A breach here would have severe consequences, as we wouldn't just be talkig about credit numbers here. This is a real and present danger which can ruin lives.

    I am aware that there's a balance to be achieved between the needs of the intelligence services, and the freedoms and privacy of citizens. But this balance is what's important. It's not a matter of "security first, privacy second". Also, the statement that more security = more privacy is simplistic at best, as was demonstrated by the complete and utter failure of biometric passports from a security point of view.

    Although drawing parallels to today would be a stretch, it's a good idea to read up on the "Reichstagsbrandgesetz", a law that helped a despot into power. This is not to say that the situations are identical of course - but it is a valuable reminder of the fact that whatever tools you ask for today are the same tools you hand over to your successor.

    You are well-advised to keep safeguards in place to prevent abuse.

    There's no search filter for terrorists, and there is no replacement for the hard and endless task of collecting and processing information. Intelligence services should be given better tools to work within current laws, instead of extending their range of authority beyond a reasonable measure.

    Of course, the very definition of "reasonable" is what's this debate is all about.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 1, 2007 3:15 AM  

  • A good friend of mine, a retired 32 year veteran of a local police department said to me, "I don't know what the future holds with regards to technology and policy, but I can't seem to get past the idea that the cat and mouse game of good guys chasing bad guys will always somehow continue, the challenge is to try and maintain some sense of balance so that neither side gets too much power in the equation". A simple police officer perspective from a small town, but it really hit me as being profound insight into mainstream America.

    He and I were recently discussing all the changes that we've experienced over the years. I certainly understand that this problem set is incredibly complex and difficult to manage. I don't think that there is necessarily one "right" answer, however, I do appreciate the efforts to preserve privacy as the future unfolds and all of its associated changes occur.

    We may all look back in 10 years and wipe our brows in relief knowing that our leaders did the best they could and somehow miracualously preserved all that this country is about. I have a great deal of hope that we can all live with the consequences of decisions made by our leaders and the rest of the world's leaders. It is not lost on me that other leaders, leaders of other nations and other organizations (e.g. terrorist, etc.) create conditions that we all have to respond to in order to be safe. I don't think its appropriate to throw rocks at our leaders while leaving out the responsibility that other world leaders bear in this entire issue. It is indeed a global challenge.

    At the end of the day, if I had to choose one over the other, I really want my kids and grandkids to be able to grow up, alive and well, with the freedoms that I experienced in my life relatively intact. That's my humble plea in the midst of all of this turbulence. I served my country and worked very hard to ensure them a future and I appreciate all the hard work that my fellow decision makers are putting forth to do their best to ensure the same. We need to be safe and secure in order for that to happen. I think most Americans understand that. Am I comfortable with others knowing everything about me, absolutely not, however, if knowing something about me keeps me and my family safe and free in the end game, I'm willing to part with that privacy for a "season" while the enemies of freedom are routed out and eliminated. I'm sure that is easier said than done.

    I believe that part of the answer lies with our ability to be flexible and trust our government while ensuring that the balance is set back to equilibrium upon elimination (if that ever happens) of our truest of threats. I suppose it will become a situation of bend and flex, push and pull, lean forward and pull backward until we get these things under a better sense of control. I think that if the American people can trust the government (I know thats a big challenge in today's world), we can make some real progress on this issue.


    By Blogger Mike, At October 2, 2007 11:41 AM  

  • How can one say that privacy is dead? To society just realized its true value and the interest will increase even more in the near future.

    By Anonymous Malte, At October 2, 2007 4:10 PM  

  • I am all for the "REAL ID" act.
    It is the year 2007 and we are in the tech. age. We should have a electronic form of ID ( such as a Drivers Lic.) that can postively indentify us as who we say we are!

    I do NOT agree with the states giving Driver's lic. to illegal aliens, unless it is stamped plainly on the lic. that the bearer is an "Illegal alien"! So that it cannot be used as a form of ID to obtian a job illegaly.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 4, 2007 3:39 PM  

  • Does anyone know where I can get a copy of his speech?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At October 12, 2007 8:16 PM  

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