U.S. Intelligence official argues for balance between security and privacy

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Over the past week, there has been considerable debate among privacy advocates about the comments made by a senior U.S. security official at a conference in October. A portion of his speech is copied below:

Donald Kerr, the principal deputy director of national intelligence, at the 2007 GEOINT Symposium, October 23, 2007 in San Antonio:

“When I’m at work, and throughout my day, security is safety, as a barrier against physical or emotional harm. When I go home at night, security is privacy, as an expectation of freedom from unnecessary burdens. In the intelligence community, we have an obligation to protect both safety and privacy….

concern for privacy. Too often, privacy has been equated with anonymity; and it’s an idea that is deeply rooted in American culture. The Long Ranger wore a mask but Tonto didn’t seem to need one even though he did the dirty work for free. You’d think he would probably need one even more. But in our interconnected and wireless world, anonymity – or the appearance of anonymity – is quickly becoming a thing of the past…

Anonymity results from a lack of identifying features. Nowadays, when so much correlated data is collected and available – and I’m just talking about profiles on MySpace, Facebook, YouTube here – the set of identifiable features has grown beyond where most of us can comprehend. We need to move beyond the construct that equates anonymity with privacy and focus more on how we can protect essential privacy in this interconnected environment.

Protecting anonymity isn’t a fight that can be won. Anyone that’s typed in their name on Google understands that. Instead, privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured. And it is that framework that we need to grow and nourish and adjust as our cultures change.

I think people here [at the 2007 GEOINT Symposium], at least people close to my age, recognize that those two generations younger than we are have a very different idea of what is essential privacy, what they would wish to protect about their lives and affairs. And so, it’s not for us to inflict one size fits all. It’s a need to have it be adjustable to the needs of local societies as they evolve in our country. Eventually, we can only hope that people’s perceptions – in Hollywood and elsewhere – will catch up.

Our job now is to engage in a productive debate, which focuses on privacy as a component of appropriate levels of security and public safety…”

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