Keeping the Faith

The dark side of the peaceful revolution.

by / October 1, 2001
Just as this issue of Government Technology was coming together, American life as we knew it, came apart. Terrorists attacked this country on Sept. 11, 2001. For days it was difficult to concentrate. For days we received e-mails from around the world, expressing sympathy and concern. Stories about exciting applications of electronic government languished; it just didnt seem appropriate to make calls to people who had been touched by this international tragedy.

Of course, it became immediately clear that electronic communications in this country will be impacted. Early on there was talk about how Osama bin Laden, who is thought to have orchestrated the attacks, used the Internet to communicate with his operatives around the world. It was also clear that certain confidential government communications had been intercepted or monitored by the perpetrators. Tragically, information technology was used as a terrorist tool.

It is not an exaggeration to say that, prior to Sept. 11, we were in the nascent years of a peaceful revolution that promised deep changes to our global culture. That peace has been shattered. How will the vast benefits of information technology be balanced with the potential evils it makes possible? Can resources in education, health, medicine, government, commerce and science remain fully open and available to the worldwide audience?

Certainly, the magnitude of the attack produced results that the terrorists had not intended. Americans rallied, worked and grieved as one, and then reexamined what it means to live in a free and open society. Surely, this concept will be a consideration as policy makers look at how the Internet and information technology can be used more securely.

In the aftermath of the attacks we learned how important technology has become in daily life. Cell phone calls from in-flight victims shed light on the horrible event; New York City posted an emergency Web site; United Airlines pulled its site and posted disaster information. The Internet became a resource for information, communication and comfort, as scores of new sites were devoted to personal messages about the tragedy. E-mails sailed around the country as friends let friends know they were safe.

At the same time, commentators pointed out that bin Laden and his people had access to that same technology. Terrorists monitor broadcasts, infiltrate security and communicate using sophisticated codes. Extremists who hide in remote areas are no longer remote -- technology delivers as easily to a bunker as to a big city.

Almost as immediate as shock and outrage, was the pronouncement that this breech of our open society should not alter the freedoms weve come to take for granted. To allow an extremist act to close the doors would be to betray our history and principles -- principles that are admired around the world.

In the months ahead, what we will need is balance and wisdom to handle this new perspective that was violently thrust upon us. As in all events of extreme tragedy, the good that flows from indescribable pain should guide our future decisions.

A message received by Wayne Hanson, the former editor of this publication, illustrates the strength of the human spirit. From colleague Earl Mardle of Australia, who met Hansen at the annual Stockholm Challenge: "John Kennedy once stood at the Berlin Wall and said, "Ich bin ein Berliner." The Internet is now filling with e-mails proclaiming that in this moment, we are all Americans."

Let us hold this sentiment in our hearts and consciousness as we mold technology to meet the challenges of the future.
Darby Patterson Editor in Chief