Technology and Counterterrorism
Technology makes us safer.
Communications technologies ensure that emergency response personnel can communicate with each other in an emergency--whether police, fire or medical. Bomb-sniffing machines now routinely scan airplane baggage. Other technologies may someday detect contaminants in our water supply or our atmosphere.
Throughout law enforcement and intelligence investigation, different technologies are being harnessed for the good of defense. However, technologies designed to secure specific targets have a limited value.
By its very nature, defense against terrorism means we must be prepared for anything. This makes it expensive--if not nearly impossible--to deploy threat-specific technological advances at all the places where they're likely needed. So while it's good to have bomb-detection devices in airports and bioweapon detectors in crowded subways, defensive technology cannot be applied at every conceivable target for every conceivable threat. If we spent billions of dollars securing airports and the terrorists shifted their attacks to shopping malls, we wouldn't gain any security as a society.
It's far more effective to try and mitigate the general threat. For example, technologies that improve intelligence gathering and analysis could help federal agents quickly chase down information about suspected terrorists. The technologies could help agents more rapidly uncover terrorist plots of any type and aimed at any target, from nuclear plants to the food supply. In addition, technologies that foster communication, coordination and emergency response could reduce the effects of a terrorist attack, regardless of what form the attack takes. We get the most value for our security dollar when we can leverage technology to extend the capabilities of humans.
Just as terrorists can use technology more or less wisely, we as defenders can do the same. It is only by keeping in mind the strengths and limitations of technology that we can increase our security without wasting money, freedoms or civil liberties, and without making ourselves more vulnerable to other threats. Security is a trade-off, and it is important that we use technologies that enable us to make better trade-offs and not worse ones.
Originally published on CNet
Posted on October 20, 2004 at 4:35 PM • 3 Comments