New book describes a disturbing and realistic view of the future

Trading privacy for security in a post-9/11 world

The issue of “Privacy vs. National Security” continues to inspire heated public debate. Since 9/11, Americans have struggled to agree on an acceptable balance. With wiretappings, phone surveillance, increased airport security, and internet monitoring, people are concerned that their privacy is being compromised. The War on Terror has raised questions about protecting civil liberties and privacy during a new kind of war that knows no national borders.

Most Americans favor renewing the USA Patriot Act. This controversial law, passed just after the attacks of Sept. 11, gives law enforcement agencies more powers to identify and detain suspected terrorists. Many of its key provisions are due to expire this year, and there’s an effort in Congress to extend those provisions or make them permanent. “This is no time to let our guard down, and no time to roll back good laws,” says President George W. Bush. “The Patriot Act is expected to expire, but the terrorist threats will not expire.”

As we move steadily into a more technology-based world, the use of high-tech gear for surveillance and undercover operations is being put to work in cities throughout the United States. In Chicago, for example, some 2,000 cameras have been installed throughout the city to provide surveillance capabilities to the police department. The debates continue to rage on a national and local basis. How much surveillance and security is too much?

“I think debate is a healthy thing, it just may be irrelevant in this case; privacy may actually no longer exist and people don’t understand that yet. My story posits that we are trending this way, and therefore, the real debate is one of ethics, and maybe about simply being more tolerant of each other since all our ‘laundry’ will be out for all to see,” says Edward David Gil, author of the book The Expert on Everything (LULU Publications, November 2006) and co-founder of two technology companies.

The main character in Gil’s book, Charlie Sanders, finds himself being caught in a surveillance experiment whose motives and purposes are unknown. He gets involved with a system so-called “open source intelligence,” which has the ability to obtain unlimited information from any database anywhere in the world. This technology would enable us to remove “bad guys” much quicker. However, if we had this kind of technology, would we know where to stop? Which areas are off-limits? Described as a cross between Catch-22 and Three Days of the Condor, this political thriller focuses on realistic technological details and takes the reader on a journey into an uncomfortable future that could easily become a reality.

From the Nov. 15-21, 2006, issue

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