The relentless drive for more intrusive technology to help improve security may result in a society that is less secure, warned Al Gore, former US vice president speaking at the Carnahan Conference on Security Technology in Taipei.
Advances in technology allow governments to track the activities of individuals more closely and collect greater amounts of information than ever before, Gore said. But greater access to information does not automatically result in greater security, he said.
The obstacle to improved security is not inadequate access to information but the inability of governments and law-enforcement agencies to effectively analyze and process the information they already have, Gore said.
Citing the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September, 2001 as an example, Gore described how detailed information related to the hijackers, such as phone numbers, addresses and airline frequent flier numbers, was available to the US authorities one week prior to the hijackings. However, the government had no effective way of connecting the dots and preventing the attacks as this information was held in different computer systems, he said.
"Sometimes there is a relentless push to acquire more information and very little attention is given to how information already available is used," Gore said.
"We should spend our time on enhancing and improving systems available for dealing with that information," he said.
If information gathering becomes too intrusive, these technologies may undermine the very freedoms they were intended to protect, Gore said. Governments need to strike a balance between protecting the privacy of citizens and allowing discretionary access to information that may provide evidence of terrorist plots or crimes, he said.
"If we lose our freedom in the process of protecting ourselves, we are less secure, not more secure," Gore said.
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