Thursday, 1 March 2007

Privacy vs. Security

Privacy is fast becoming a rare commodity. Constant vigilance is much more prevalent in developed countries like US. It is believed that an average American is caught on video at least thrice a day –once at the ATM, once at the tollway and again at the office. Security at airports has become tighter after a terrorist plot to attack US bound planes using liquid explosives was foiled in the UK recently. People of Asian origin and of particular races come under greater scrutiny. Innocent people get caught in the midst of this sorry mess with unwanted security checks, long queues and huge delays. Flying is no longer a fun experience. On the contrary, it has become a nightmare that frequent fliers thoroughly dread. Who would enjoy the experience of getting to the airport at least two and a half hours ahead of the scheduled departure time even in the case of domestic flights and being subjected to the ordeal of long queues, tired security personnel, inconsolable babies and harassed fellow passengers? Add to that, unavoidable flight delays due to bad weather playing spoilsport and you have the perfect recipe for a nerve wracking experience.

This raises a serious debate on the issue of invasion of privacy vs. fight against crime, which is touted as the reason for such stringent security measures. On the one hand, increased security is for the benefit of the mankind. But, on the flip side, terrorist attacks seem to continue unabated. Terrorists bide their time and use the element of surprise to attack when it is least expected and when people are least prepared. Recent terrorist attacks in Delhi, London and Bombay have severely dented people’s confidence in government attempts at thwarting anti-social elements.

No one likes to be kept under constant surveillance. No one would like their precious personal space invaded. Recently, Google announced its plans to enhance its Google Earth tool by having entire areas including houses and their backyards photographed in an attempt to help realtors and people looking to buy houses. This helps prospective buyers do the initial short listing of their favourite localities online without having to go through the hassles of visiting tens of places before finalising their home or piece of land. It thus saves them precious time and reduces inconvenience not to mention that it is pocket friendly. This has however raised some serious objections from few who believe this is an invasion of privacy. There is also the element of danger associated with such an approach that allows thieves and hoodlums to have a heyday. With all the required data available online, it becomes child play for them to plan their best attack strategies at the click of a few buttons and from the comfort of their homes. A lot of questions still remain unanswered - Does government or any organization have the right to infringe on this sacred space in the name of security or of greater good? Should common people like you and I have any say in this matter? Who decides what is best for mankind?

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