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Dr. James Lewis
Contact: jlewis@csis.org (202) 775-3247
CSIS Technology Program

The Impact of the Terrorist Attack
on Cyber-Security & Technology

September 12, 2001

Yesterday's tragedy may shift the terms of the public debate for issues like privacy, internet surveillance and even the allocation of '3G' radio spectrum. Security, law enforcement and homeland defense will be a higher priority than in the past. Privacy advocates are concerned that the fear and anger generated by the tragedy will sweep away opposition to intrusive technologies, such as the FBI's 'Carnivore' Internet traffic monitoring system. Greater use of law enforcement monitoring tools need not be a cause for concern if the appropriate legal safeguards (warrant requirements, judicial oversight) remain in place.

Americans may now also tolerate other intrusive new technologies to improve security. Automatic face monitoring at airports for anti-terrorist purposes will seem like a much better idea. However, either the legislative process or the courts will need to sort through some of the knottier problems that will arise from the use of new automated scanning and identification technologies: what locations are appropriate for scanning; if public and private personal information databases can be linked, how long data collected at airports can be stored and under what safeguards, and what uses are appropriate for face monitoring data. Americans will support automatic face screening for terrorists at airports but they may be displeased if the screening is also used to identify those with outstanding parking tickets. Technology has shifted the dividing line between what is public and what is private and our laws have not kept up.

The emphasis given to cybersecurity in the past may deflate somewhat in light of yesterday's events. The "cyber-risk" has always been overstated - a digital Pearl Harbor is preferable to a real one, and terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda have emphasized that explosions are preferable to hacking. Critical Infrastructure Protection is necessary, but an adequate homeland defense must do more than protect infrastructure. Physical protection remains as important or more important than cybersecurity.

If there is a political shift among Americans toward greater support for domestic security, it may make it more difficult to reallocate radio spectrum from the government to the private sector. Industry and some in Congress have argued that valuable radio spectrum now used by the Department of Defense should be reallocated to the private sector for use in 3rd Generation wireless communications systems (3G). DOD opposes this move. One dilemma is how to decide which use of the radio spectrum is more valuable - 3G or national defense. The value of defense has gone up in the public estimation over the last 24 hours. Whether this will have a lasting effect on the spectrum debate will depend on what other countries do (some are already taking spectrum used by DOD for 3G services) and whether an adequate replacement and compensation scheme for DOD can be devised.

Memo by Dr. John Hamre
Analysis by Dr. Simon Serfaty
Analysis by Dr. Shireen Hunter
Analysis by Mr. Daniel Benjamin
Analysis by Ms. Michèle Flournoy
Analysis by Dr. Anthony Cordesman

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