Comparison and Analysis: Public Safety vs. Civil Rights

In this essay, the impact of technological advances on individual privacy rights will be examined.  A comparison and contrast of public safety vs. civil rights will ensue exemplifying enhancements along with impediments to the quality of life society presently endure.


The element of surprise surrounding the September 11, 2001 attacks instilled a multi-faceted climate of fear encompassing society.  Ultimately, Americans now subscribe to the old cliché forewarned is forearmed.  There is no question that intelligence gathering in the course of technological advances is steadily impinging on individual privacy, whether conducted by the government or an accomplice.  Where is the line drawn?  Can we expect this intrusiveness to continue to expand and in due course encompass our thought process?  Heightened security is a necessity in this civilization, however, is the cost affordable?  Discretion has been cast by the wayside during this progression.

Psychomachia (Battle of Souls), authored by Aurelius Prudentius, the late antiquity, fourth century, Latin poet, provides an influential medieval allegory depicting the conflict our society faces with the progression of technology.  Proponents and opponents concerning this evolutionary process will defend vehemently their respective stances in the successive paragraphs and characterize the seven holy virtues and the seven capital vices comprising the pros and cons of technical advances which society will continually encounter during this civilization.


The glass half full effect of technology or perceived impediments, as opponents of technological progression assert, present a myriad of issues which discard privacy rights virtually in their entirety and on a consistent basis.  Technological advances, whether digital or genetic, commit seven capital vices in this societal conflict: law ambiguity, public mistrust, unlimited access, integration of data, degeneration of society, 1995 Human Genome Project and NCHGR’s Division of Intramural Research (DIR).

Law Ambiguity.  Technology is a changeling and evokes fear and confusion among the masses.  The technological winds of change gust recurrently and offer a kaleidoscope of legal issues around every twist and turn which jurists and advocates scarcely grasp, let alone have ample time to defend or rule on.  Technological changes present the need for law enactment addressing concerns and conflicts both anticipated and encountered by society.  For example, the internet could be looked at as a foe.  The internet impacts our culture negatively in some instances, through the “spread of child pornography and copying of music illegally.”  (Moses, 2007, p. 18).  “Computers, the Internet and genetic testing pose potential threats to privacy.  Technological change thus has the potential to impact negatively on the environment, human physical and mental health, as well as having a significant potential effect on culture and ethics.  (Moses, 2007, p. 18).

Inclusiveness and under-inclusiveness is a pesky vermin beleaguering the legal field as a result of the technological expansion.  Crafting laws and rules now faces “multiple parallel and sequential goals” as a result of these scientific and technical explosions.  (Moses, 2007, p. 36).  For example, the proper jurisdiction concerning cyber criminals and the compendium that the criminal intellectual property arena bestows.

Public Mistrust.  Public mistrust of our government is not a new concept. It has been a steady part of our society since the beginning of our country. Even as it as grow and developed over hundreds of years, public mistrust is still very much a part of our life. More and more availability has been made so as personal records of every citizen may be accessed. Even to the point of knowing a particular persons likes and dislikes are recorded somewhere for access by anyone.

Unlimited Access.  “The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law ensuring public access to U.S. government records.”(National Security Archive) This act was enacted in 1966 and is a federal law establishing the public’s right to obtain information from federal government agencies. Burden of why the government is not disclosing information is on the government not the public. Then the government must either grant the written request for the information or it must come under one of the nine exemptions. However, the federal court has jurisdiction over disclosure and ultimately allowing such to occur.

The exemptions for not releasing information are: National Security Information, Internal Personnel Rules and Practices, Substantial internal matters (high risk), Internal matters that are trivial, Information exempt under other laws, Confidential Business Information, Inter or intra agency communication that could be used in litigation, Personal Privacy, Law Enforcement Records, Financial Institutions, and Geological Information. “The FOIA applies to Executive Branch departments, agencies and offices; federal regulatory agencies; and federal corporations.” (National Security Archive). What is allowed under FOIA is a print document, photographs, videos, maps, email and electronic records all created or obtained by a Federal agency. This Federal agency must have these records in their possession and control at the time the FOIA request is received in writing.

“Agencies are required by FOIA to maintain information about how to make a FOIA request, including a handbook, reference guide, indexes, and descriptions of information locator systems.”(National Security Archive) Allowing citizens to be informed on how to make this request is essential to and supports the First Amendment freedom of speech. If our government disallowed such access to these documents then this would infringe upon our First Amendment right thus violating it.

Integration of Data.  Integration of data blurring distinction between public and private sector data. Clearinghouses of data generated: CDB Infotek, IRSC, Lexis-Nexis and Information America. IT is unregulated.

A person’s private information is no longer private. Internet companies like CDB Infotek and Lexis-Nexis have access to the most personal information Americans have. These companies are in the business of providing key services to their customers and of those services, most result in the sale of the customer information. CDB for example, in 1997, had a formal complaint filed against them for “using consumer data to provide reference services (e.g., skip tracing, bill collection, and look-ups, people-locating)” (Richardson, 1997, ¶2). In the same complaint, it is mentioned that the CDB sold data and information from numerous states for unlawful purposes. CDB is a company that coincides with Equifax, a nationally known credit information company. People depend on companies like Equifax for their credit scores as well as any illegal activity that may have occurred on behalf their credit. The same companies we as Americans trust with our lives, are betraying us for more money.

Information technology is very fortunate to be practically unregulated. The government has more than a difficult time in controlling or containing the information our in Cyberspace. In fact, according to the article, Technology at the Crossroads: the Future of the Internet, by Andy Madden, “the information technology industry has been fortunate to operate in a virtually regulation-free environment. Many feel this lack of government regulation has been the key component in the rapid growth of the computer industry, Internet and digital technology” (Richardson, 1997, ¶2). The government literally has n way of controlling the Internet therefore; the government avoids the issues regarding it. As stated, the Informational technology field is rarely regulated and controlled. Although, there have been a few complaints filed against companies that sell information, companies like Information America, have no been prosecuted, yet have been accused of similar activity. Lexis-Nexis has been criticized for releasing any and all information of any person as long as the receiver provides a credit card number.

Degeneration of Society.  Degeneration of society, coupled with the failure to approach these societal problem at their roots, and the concomitant use of information technologies to solve social problems.  Information technology as well as the internet should be used to inform people of all classes of life, learning and understanding. Instead, the information as well as the internet is separating classes due to a lack of education. Computer learning courses should reflect a curriculum that is designed to include news article research about topics such as digital privacy laws, the use of electronic evidence in court cases, or technology corporations operating at an international level. Students reading materials such as these connect technical material and modern tools directly to real-world events, and both global and personal concerns. This in essence can help the students gain a better insight of real-world problems, in relation to one another. Technology can assist in societal problem through a number of resources. These include medical diagnosis; but rarely are medical issues broadcasted across the internet. The government could have websites that only discuss planning and programs available. Instead, the government shows a broad scope of information that is nearly impossible to narrow down and understand. The Internet is smothered in gossip columns and irrelevant information; the government could impose regulations to encourage educational input on the internet.

Social problems include a number of topics. For example some known social problems include the increasing of traffic fatalities, high crime rates, increase in violent crimes, and drugs. Technology can be useful in that it can assist the public in acknowledging local drug hot spots; helping the people in the community approach the problems directly. Also the internet can be used to educate adults as well as children regarding alternative activities to engage in other than those that are illegal. Instead, with the freedom of speech law, people are corrupted into the realms of society through websites like Myspace and Yahoo Chat. Technology can be useful in helping to assist societal problems. However, it has yet to be done.

1995 Human Genome Project.  According to the Human Genome Project Website (2005), the HGP “was a 13-year effort coordinated by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. The project originally was planned to last 15 years, but rapid technological advances accelerated the completion date to 2003” (¶3). The project has goals like to: identify all the approximately 20,000-25,000 genes in human DNA, determine the sequences of the 3 billion chemical base pairs that make up human DNA, store this information in databases, improve tools for data analysis, transfer related technologies to the private sector, and address the ethical, legal, and social issues (ELSI) that may arise from the project (2005). The United States is undoubtedly condone testing on human DNA and several negative aspects regarding the project have been brought to light. For example, patents could hinder the development of diagnostics and therapeutics by third parties because of the costs related with using patented research data. Informational technology can be used to recruit support for the tests and patent ideas. Another negative response to the HGP is that patent filings are replacing journal articles as places for public research and input–reducing the extent and content of knowledge in the literature.

Technology can serve as a tool in order to assist the technological advances the project may need in order for full success of its goals. Nonetheless, the internet can serve as a political scandal forcing opinions on human research to be negative and unconstructive. Unfortunately, technology is not up to par for the Human Genome Project. According to The National Human Genome research Institute (2006):

Although considerable strides have been made in technology development since the publication of the NRC and OTA reports, there is still a need for further innovation to adapt the technology to large scale projects and to bring the costs down. During the next five years, there will be an emphasis on technology development in all areas of the program. Automation, optimization, cost reduction and other improvements will be supported in areas such as cloning technology, robotics, DNA sequencing, gel technology, software tools, and instrument development. Equally important will be the support of completely novel approaches such as the use of scanning tunneling microscopy or mass spectrometry for sequencing. The ultimate technology that will be used to sequence the human genome may turn out to be a method that is still on the

drawing board (¶ 80).

Technology is not yet advanced enough to catch up with the research. If technology had the ability to be as updated as the research ideas regarding the project, the technological consequences would be extreme. For example, the system holding the information can be hacked and violated releasing the DNA research to outside sources, diminishing the true purposes of the research.

NCHGR’s Division of Intramural Research (DIR).  The NCHGR’s DIR programs are studies that are often long term and extremely high risk. The DIR is who directly addresses the environmental component of many different diseases. The information these laboratories hold effects the public due to the hazardous chemicals and components the DIR is made aware of. Technology is advanced enough to keep track of such programs but it should allow agencies nationwide to exam electronic versions of the chemicals in order to expand the research capabilities of the disease or element. The DIR scientists are involved in research that contributes to the understanding of biological and chemical processes. Unfortunately, the DIR has so little of the genetic technology and it is because of this that the research is forced to rely on hypothetical scenarios.


In contrast, the glass half full effect of technological advances as proponents of the digital and genetic mêlée, assert that the seven cardinal virtues are: public safety, cryptography, government funding for research, information sharing, identification accuracy, Health Alert Network and cyber defense.  This nation has had to make and implement tough choices for the sake of freedom. It hasn’t been easy to balance the need for public safety vs. civil rights. The most noteworthy improvement has been the technological advances in protecting the public while maintaining civil rights simultaneously.

Public Safety.   “Private firms have the primary responsibility for the development and adoption of technology” (Elmer-Dewitt, 1994, p. 73) while the government has the responsibility for implementing the technology to assure public safety. The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have markedly increased the need for aviation safety and security, both short and long-term. Without a continued investment, our technological edge in meeting the challenges of a sustained war against global terrorism might diminish.

Cryptography.  Among the advancements has been the use of cryptography for keeping messages and recording secrets. The compromise of cryptography in the commercial, national security, and other sensitive information demonstrates the seriousness of the impact to personal assets and privacy, business interests, and public well-being, among others.  (Elmer-Dewitt, 1994, p 73).

Government Financing for Research.   “Federal and state government play an important role in enhancing civilian technology development” (Elmer-Dewitt, 1994, p. 73) while they decide what aspects they will adopt for this nation’s “economic, regulatory, and trade policies.” (Elmer-Dewitt, 1994, p.73).

Information Sharing.  The recently created Department of Homeland Security initiated “critical counter-terrorism information sharing, the implementation of the first in the nation Counter-Terrorism Network, aviation security programs, border security efforts and new approaches to the suppression of baseline fraudulent identification documents, precursor crimes for terrorists.” (New York State Response to Terrorism, 2006, ¶2).

Identification Accuracy.  The Transportation Security Administration require fingerprint based criminal background checks on employees working in the “sterile areas”’ of commercial airport terminals and require background checks in all commercial airports across the country. The installation of biometrics for employee identification to bolster access control systems, as well as new intrusion-detection technology to protect the aeronautical area perimeter, such as ground based radar, state-of-the-art security cameras and motion detectors all connected to new security control centers.( (New York State Response to Terrorism, 2006, ¶19).

Health Alert Network (HAN). The Department of Health developed a notification system called Health Alert Network (HAN) which facilitates the collection, analysis and sharing of reportable disease data between state agencies and state health care facilities. Working with the Department of Health, the Office of Public security provided relevant intelligence regarding chemical, biological, nuclear and radiological (CBNR) weapons, to various state law enforcement agencies and DOH contacts, to assist public health awareness and preparedness.  (New York State Response to Terrorism, 2006, ¶22).

Cyber Defense.  The Cyber-Security Task Force is protect critical cyber infrastructure (both public and private), identifying potential means of cyber-attack, and devising recommended security practices for private industry, state-operated information systems and the general public. (New York State Response to Terrorism, 2006, ¶12).


In this essay, the impact of technological advances on individual privacy rights has been thoroughly examined.  A comparison and contrast of public safety vs. civil rights has ensued exemplifying enhancements as well as impediments to the quality of life society presently endure.  The battle between technological virtues and vices shows no sign of a respite any time too soon.


(2005). What is the Human Genome Project?. Retrieved June 28, 2007, from

About the Human Genome Project Web site:

(2006). National Human Genome Research Institute. Retrieved June 28, 2007, from

Understanding Our Genetic Inheritance Web site:

(2006). New York State Response to Terrorism. Retrieved June 30, 2007, from New York State Response to Terrorism Web site:

Elmer-Dewitt, P. (1994). Terror on the Internet.  Retrieved June 30, 2007, from The National Academies Web site:

Madden, A (1998, December). Technology at the Crossroads: The Future of the Internet.

American Legislative Exchange Council, Retrieved June 26, 2007, from

Moses, L. (2007). Recurring Dilemmas: The Laws Race to Keep Up with Technological Challenge. Retrieved June 29, 2007, from The Berkeley Electronic Press Web site:

Richardson , J. (1997, April, 8). Formal Complaint . Unethical Use of Consumer data for

Reference Service/Look-ups, Retrieved June 27, 2007, from

The National Security Archive, (2004) The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Retrieved on     June 28, 2007, from http://www.gwu.ed

The United States Department of Justice, (2007) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Retrieved            on June 28, 2007, from

The U.S. Department of Labor, (2007) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Retrieved on June   28, 2007, from

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