Maintaining a balance

Since Sept. 11, I have been wrestling with myself, and with my friends and colleagues, in two realms. On a human level, we have been piecing our lives back together, mourning the lost and discussing how to live consistent with our values—courage, compassion, justice, freedom and love. In the social/ political sphere, we discuss the approaches that the governments of free societies could take, domestically and internationally, to prevent future terrorist acts.

As United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said, "No just cause can be advanced by terror." And no haven can be permitted for those who follow the terrorist path. This struggle must be waged using all the tools in our arsenal—political, financial, informational and military. Yet we must avoid killing innocents and driving the moderates into the terrorists' camp. The measures taken must attack the perpetrators and address the underlying disaffection with globalization and its symbols.

Before the attacks, much talk in the information technology community focused on the digital divide between those who enjoy the freedom and flexibility that the Internet provides and the majority of the people in the world who have never made a phone call. We rightly laud the Internet as an instrument of democratization and criticize regimes that block citizen access. Closer to home, however, we recognize the problems that arise at the intersections of business, governance and technology, two of which—electronic surveillance and critical infrastructure protection—are now salient.

Freedom of assembly in cyberspace does not extend to terrorist conspirators. However, the privacy of those engaged in innocent communication, and especially of those organizing legitimate dissent, must not be compromised by efforts that make it easier to find criminals.

With respect to critical infrastructure, the debates within government — and among government, industry and civil society—about roles and responsibilities are no longer theoretical. Government must act, but the response must be tempered. It must strengthen the structures of freedom, not undermine them. The solution must begin with conscious and responsible practice by the private owners of the systems upon which we depend.

The realms of the personal and the political intersect around freedom and justice. We will abide some restrictions on our personal activities to further the cause of social justice. And we will tolerate the occasional escape of some from justice in the interests of a free society. The two realms also intersect around compassion and love. Hatred does not end hatred; only love can overcome.

As President Bush said, this kind of war will not be short. We will need flexibility, patience and perseverance. We must also keep our values at the forefront—values that are among the reasons we are a target for evil. Maintaining this balance will require insight and courage.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget, is president of McConnell International LLC (www.mcconnellinternational.com).

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