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    Where Liberty And Safety Meet: The Challenge Of Technology

    Let’s start with Ben Franklin’s assertion, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

    And now fast-forward to the Boston Marathon bombing.

    The political finger-pointing has begun, which usually follows a successful law enforcement effort to actually apprehend the criminals. I suppose it’s a necessary, if not a good, thing that the threat is gone; but the paranoia, politicizing and demagoguery begin.

    I have seen various television shows recently where “freedom-loving American” pundits have proposed abrogating our  1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th and 14th Amendments in the name of justice.

    It’s now that the Libertarians are separated from the herd, however. Because Franklin’s quote really means that we have allowed random acts of terror to spawn or relinquish our personal liberties that are guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

    This is the debate that has to occur. It’s a continuing debate citizens should have about their government, especially a government that is built on the principle of liberty.

    The other challenging aspect of this tragedy, even for the staunchest libertarian, is the positive role technology played in capturing these individuals. Crowd-sourced photos and video, closed-circuit security cameras all public transportation cameras all came together and were handled and evaluated exceedingly well by law enforcement.

    No one panicked. The various agencies worked well together and executed a very methodical plan.

    Tech Is A Tool

    When the noose closed around the Tsarnaev brothers, we had some friends in town, one of whom works as director of cybersecurity for a large Federal agency.

    We’re always discussing what’s happening in cybersecurity and information security (infosec), the latter being a growing challenge because a lot of people are looking for data and analysis, not just stealing names or stuffing viruses on machines.

    For example, China hosted U.S. representatives to negotiate the terms of a treaty on some specific trade issue. When the meetings were going on, there were few hacking attempts. (There are always some attempts being made.) But after the meetings, the attempts rose logarithmically. The Chinese were trying to find out what the U.S. representatives were discussing among themselves about the agreement.

    No doubt, the United States was doing the same thing to the Chinese delegation.

    Anyway, as my friend and I watched the culmination of the manhunt unfold in front of us, I observed that even with all the technology at their disposal it took humans to interpret it, develop a plan and execute the plan.

    It took the citizens of Boston to lock themselves down to help the manhunt. It took law enforcement to work quickly, carefully and respectfully with the citizens and among themselves.

    Technology was a tool. It didn’t solve the case, but it helped identify the suspects and apprehend them.

    The Challenge

    This will be the debate that will resonate: Can we use the technology without abusing it?

    Was this incident an example of the value of citywide security cameras? Or was it a testament to the resourcefulness of the human condition that it was solved by using a jigsaw puzzle of various resources to paint a clear picture?

    In the United States, this is a significant debate because few places on Earth have a Constitution that is so focused on individuals’ rights as citizens. In most other industrialized nations, the state can do as it sees fit (within reason, for the most part).

    While I’m no fan of Big Brother, I also know that technologies can be very useful when in the right hands. And whether it’s government bureaucrats or underpaid, overworked private-sector employees, I’m a bit skittish trusting either with my liberty.

    That said, some of this surveillance technology is coming whether we like it or not. For example, for many years the military had an acronym C3ISR. It stood for Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.

    About 10 years ago, it became C4ISR when Computing was added. And now, it’s C5ISR as Combat Systems has been added.

    This represents technologies entering the battle space. And this is one sector where cameras and surveillance are crucial to keeping people alive.

    Now, of course, some of this involves mission creep at the end of the day.

    One company I have always liked in this space on military side is FLIR Systems, Inc. (FLIR). The company makes forward-looking infrared cameras. These spot heat signatures in any kind of weather at great distance.

    Reportedly, the police were using a FLIR camera to find Suspect No. 2 in the boat. But these cameras have proved themselves on drones and helicopters as well as stationary intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in forward positions in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now at home first responders are beginning to use them. The cameras are also very popular for maritime operations where fog, waves and rain can make navigation very challenging.

    Another company to watch in this space for different reasons is Cobham plc (LSE:COB). This company is the chief contractor to the British government for security camera operations around the country.

    Unlike in the United States, the United Kingdom has chosen to allow the government to install cameras around the country. Cobham, which is one of the chief contractors, has developed some very advanced visual recognition software and is an internationally respected expert on these systems. That includes monitoring, accessing and searching massive video databases, which will likely have more added benefits as computer users watch more and video and, thus, search for more video.

    So what to do you think? Is there a happy medium between liberty and safety? If not, should we opt for liberty or safety? Can we trust anyone to control this kind of technology?

    — GS Early

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