Security and Privacy
Response to Sept. 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks

September 14, 2001

CDT joins the nation in grief and anger over the devastating loss of life resulting from the terrorist hijackings and attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. Thousands lost their lives in a brutal assault on the American people and the American form of government.

Responding to these attacks and the threat of future ones will test our collective resolve to maintain the freedom, openness and diversity that defines and enriches our society. CDT believes that

  • surrendering freedom will not purchase security,
  • democratic values are strengths, not weaknesses,
  • open communications networks are a positive force in the fight against violence and intolerance.
If we give up the constitutional freedoms fundamental to our democratic way of life, then the terrorists will have won.

We strongly support the statements by our nation's leaders who, in reaction to this unparalleled assault, have promised to preserve the liberties that have made this nation great.

We welcome, in particular, the statements of President Bush when he told the nation that "America was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining." Further, the President said, "Those in authority should take appropriate precautions to protect our citizens. But we will not allow this enemy to win the war by changing our way of life or restricting our freedoms."

As Rep. Bob Goodlatte said, "When the President talks about fighting back to protect our freedom, that includes freedom from intrusion into innocent people's lives."

Similarly, Attorney General John Ashcroft pledged that, "the determination of these terrorists will not deter the determination of the American people. We are survivors, and freedom is a survivor. A free American people will not be intimidated, nor will we be defeated."

We urge Congress and the President to keep to this course of restraint and the defense of civil liberties. In the days ahead, we need to consider calmly and deliberately any proposals to improve security, with a determination not to erode the liberties and freedoms that are at the core of the American way of life. As Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said, any reassessment of current capabilities should be undertaken only "when the facts are in and the facts are clear" and must be "consistent with constitutional freedoms at the core of our national ideals." We should resist the temptation to change laws quickly while passions are understandably high or enact proposals in the mistaken belief that anything that may be called anti-terrorist will necessarily provide greater security.

There is clearly much that can be done to continue improving the government's technological sophistication to fight terrorism. But it would be wrong to overreact. The wiretap laws already give the law enforcement and intelligence agencies wide latitude. Indeed, it has been recognized for some time that the laws need to be updated in light of technological changes to provide more protection for privacy, not less.

The Internet is the people's voice. As demonstrated in the last few days, it was the open Internet that allowed people to contact and reassure their loved ones and to give vent to their feelings. Those are positive benefits of the openness and innovation of modern communications technologies. Moreover, building government surveillance features into communications networks can reduce security and create new risks of vulnerability. Nor is there anything to be gained by limiting freedom of expression. Pushing dissenting voices off the Internet does not increase security.

History teaches us that when we sacrifice liberty in times of crisis we later come to regret it, from the Alien Sedition Act to the internment of Japanese Americans to the FBI surveillance of anti-Vietnam war demonstrators and civil rights leaders.

In future weeks, as anti-terrorism proposals are made, CDT will be issuing analyses of their civil liberties implications, working with other organizations.