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Protecting What Matters

Originally published May 11, 2006

Note from Dr. Barquin: In one of the first articles written for the Business Intelligence Network, we commented that business intelligence in government very frequently involved a significant ethical component. Since then, there have often been references to such issues in our writing. Hence, it was heartwarming to see the publication of Protecting What Matters: Technology, Security and Liberty Since 9/11 (Clayton Northouse, editor) by the Brookings Institution. Because of its importance and relevance, this article is a reproduction of the Foreword that Jane Fishkin, Brookings’ CIO and Vice President of the Computer Ethics Institute (CEI), and I wrote for the book.

The balance between civil liberties and national security is surely the issue of our time, especially after 9/11. Foursquare in the middle of it are computers and information technology. As the Computer Ethics Institute (CEI) moves well into its second decade, it is telling that our center of gravity has moved so strongly in this direction. Discussions at CEI’s conferences in the early 1990s pointed to today’s intersection of public policy, ethics, and the Internet. As computers have penetrated our everyday lives and the Internet has become the central highway of our shared knowledge, it was inevitable that some of the ethical issues brought forth by this technology would come to the forefront. The Internet was one of the main communications mechanisms for terrorists in the days and weeks leading to 9/11; it is now a primary tool for those entrusted with the task of tracking and capturing terrorists.

This anthology aims to illuminate the tensions that arise when a society considers reengineering its values related to individual liberties in the face of growing challenges to the society’s security. At the same time, this book seeks to elucidate the problem of ethics and technology. Is technology ethically neutral? Is mankind’s toolkit truly devoid of any ethical connection, even though tools operate in the realm of human action and behavior? Do the ends ever justify the means? Are there at least some ends that justify all possible means for attainment?

The editor, Clayton Northouse, has gathered an impressive list of contributors for this anthology. It reads like a who’s who of legal, technical, ethical and public policy gurus particularly focused on shedding light on our chosen issue.

Zoë Baird has taken advantage of the landmark work done by the Markle Foundation on this issue to frame our topic. Senators Jon Kyl and Russ Feingold do an excellent job of presenting the viewpoints of Congress. Beryl Howell, former General Counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, tackles the Judiciary as she wrestles with the role and position of the courts. Georgetown University’s David Luban addresses the complex issues of ethics and the law in the context of security. And who is more appropriate than Judge Richard Posner to frame the legal aspects in a pragmatic approach?

The gist of this subject lies principally on the issue of privacy, and here few can talk with more authority or clarity than one of the founding fathers of the topic, Alan Westin. Furthermore, he is joined by Jerry Berman (Center for Democracy and Technology) who continues playing his watchdog role and reminds us of the potential detrimental aspects to individual privacy.

To address many of the technical issues we confront, Gilman Louie and Gayle van Eckartsberg bring substantial insight since they do it for a living trying to invest wisely in promising new technologies for the CIA through In-Q-Tel.

All this needs to be positioned in terms of executive branch operations including the White House and the Department of Defense. Who knows better how this plays at the highest levels and is seen in the Oval Office than Brookings’ Jim Steinberg, former Deputy National Security Advisor during the Clinton Administration? Larry Thompson, former Deputy Attorney General and Brookings scholar, in turn relates it to the antiterrorism space; and the Hoover Institution’s Bruce Berkowitz addresses the military and intelligence aspects that affect it.

Lastly, Ron Nessen, the former Press Secretary for President Ford and NBC war correspondent, uses his high credibility and expertise to tackle the thorny topic of the role of the press.

How did the Computer Ethics Institute become involved? The CEI has been a research, education, and policy study organization active at the interface of advances in information technologies, ethics, and corporate and public policy. Beginning in 1985 as the Coalition for Computer Ethics and incorporated in 1992 as the Computer Ethics Institute, its constituency comprises members of the information technology professions and of the academic, corporate and public policy communities. Over the years it excelled as a medium where practitioners from multiple disciplines – including ethicists, philosophers and theologians – came together to address the difficult social issues brought to the forefront by computer technology.

The mission of the CEI is to provide for its constituency and the public an advanced forum and resource for identifying, assessing and responding to ethical issues associated with the advancement of information technologies. Both locally and globally, computer and information technologies have become the infrastructure of e-business and e-government. The effects of these advances in information technologies have been transformations of the relationships among government, businesses, stakeholders, and the community within which these relationships exist and have practical consequences.

As information technologies transform business practice, so too does the transformation of the organizational and public policies affect that practice and its outcomes. How should such policies be shaped in the Information Age to create the optimal balance among corporate, public and private welfare? This question is of immediate consequence.

The Brookings Institution has been a partner from the inception of the Computer Ethics Institute. Brookings has served as the venue for CEI conferences, hosted the CEI Web site, and provided support whenever necessary. In fact, a CEI event – held at Brookings and co-sponsored by Ascential Software, the Computer Ethics Institute, and the Brookings Institution–Information Technology Services – gave rise to this book. The event, Balancing Civil Liberties and National Security in the Post-9/11 Era: The Challenge of Information Sharing, brought together technologists, government officials, legislators, and public policy scholars to focus on the following three questions:

  1. How can information technologies assist in maintaining a secure homeland?

  2. What issueslegal, cultural, ethical and organizationalmay arise from the implementation of these IT solutions?

  3. What operational framework should policy makers use to maximize the benefits and minimize the harm of implementing these information technology solutions in the post-9/11 environment?

There were many different responses to these questions. Among them, we heard of the need to develop strong leadership with a willingness to define expectations and deadlines. We were cautioned to delineate specific goals, avoid generalities and look at alternative frameworks, particularly those that do not pit the government against the people or the world. It was noted that we should carefully identify what we need to know and what good intelligence is. We were also urged to take privacy seriously and work toward consensus. Finally, we were warned not to depend solely on the judiciary to balance civil liberties and security because security always wins out.

Before arriving at answers, we were reminded, we would need to find out what systems that deal with these issues currently exist. Then, to develop an appropriate framing of the questions and issues involved, we could bring together groups, including representatives not just from the federal government but also those from the private sector, state governments, and local governments. For best results, we were advised to operate more tactically than philosophically, to establish a research agenda, and to provide education.

All of these were important observations but the one that truly stood out was the need to depolarize the issue so that the two sides could build from common ground.

It was abundantly clear from the beginning that this is a very controversial issue. In fact, the only way to bring these participants together was through an event that was by invitation only, not for attribution, and free of the press. This need for privacy made the discussion all the more important and urgent.

After that event and some follow-on activities, we clearly needed a weighty publication, bringing together expert thought from the relevant fields, to illuminate the issue.

That has been the monumental task of Clayton Northouse, the editor. Clay brings to this project the mind of the philosopher and the passion of the practitioner. He has worked the people, the topic and the book from the early days of his involvement with the Computer Ethics Institute and has now actually put it together. It has been a labor of love and a contribution to us all.

Now everything else is in the hands of the readers. We trust that our time and effort will be well received.

  • Dr. Ramon BarquinDr. Ramon Barquin

    Dr. Barquin is the President of Barquin International, a consulting firm, since 1994. He specializes in developing information systems strategies, particularly data warehousing, customer relationship management, business intelligence and knowledge management, for public and private sector enterprises. He has consulted for the U.S. Military, many government agencies and international governments and corporations.

    He had a long career in IBM with over 20 years covering both technical assignments and corporate management, including overseas postings and responsibilities. Afterwards he served as president of the Washington Consulting Group, where he had direct oversight for major U.S. Federal Government contracts.

    Dr. Barquin was elected a National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) Fellow in 2012. He serves on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee of the Department of Homeland Security’s Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee; is a Board Member of the Center for Internet Security and a member of the Steering Committee for the American Council for Technology-Industry Advisory Council’s (ACT-IAC) Quadrennial Government Technology Review Committee. He was also the co-founder and first president of The Data Warehousing Institute, and president of the Computer Ethics Institute. His PhD is from MIT. 

    Dr. Barquin can be reached at rbarquin@barquin.com.

    Editor's note: More articles from Dr. Barquin are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Government Channel


  • Jane Fishkin
    Jane is Vice President and Chief Information Officer at The Brookings Institution as well as Vice President of the Computer Ethics Institute. She has been at Brookings for more than thirty years where she pioneered its use of information technology to both assist its scholars in their research and analysis of public policy issues, and to disseminate their work to a wide audience of policymakers, the news media, and interested members of the public. Before coming to Brookings, Fishkin worked with the IBM Corporation, and she is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University.

Recent articles by Dr. Ramon Barquin, Jane Fishkin



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