SECURITY AND FREEDOM IN THE DIGITAL AGE -- "PETER JENNINGS REPORTING:
NO PLACE TO HIDE" AIRS ON "PRIMETIME LIVE," THURSDAY, JANUARY 20 ON ABC
This is a report about one of the most important and least understood results of the tragedy on September 11th. In a one-hour primetime special, ABC News anchor Peter Jennings examines the government's effort to harness technology in the name of security, and the price we might pay if we fail to balance security and freedom in the digital age. "Peter Jennings Reporting: No Place to Hide" airs on "Primetime Live," THURSDAY, JANUARY 20 (10:00-11:00 p.m., ET) on the ABC Television Network.
It's getting harder all the time to be lost in the crowd, but the ever-present video cameras in our daily lives are only a small part of the story. Today an overwhelming number of our daily transactions can be electronically monitored by private companies, the results of which can be sold to or otherwise absorbed by the government. The most amazing artificial intelligence programs sift through our data trail to make judgments about us - and detect unusual behavior. Can government and the private sector be trusted to use these tools responsibly? "The way we live is changing," Jennings says, "and as of now there is not much discussion about the technology that gives government such access to our private lives."
Looking for answers, Jennings goes to Las Vegas, where the casino industry has pioneered an approach to surveillance that may teach us lessons on how to confront the terrorist threat. He looks at companies such as Acxiom and ChoicePoint which have information on more than 90% of the households in America. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies are increasingly turning to their databases to hunt down criminals and terrorists. Jennings finds that this sharing of data between private companies and the government can be a real can of worms. For one thing, information gathered for commercial purposes, as in credit reports, is often inaccurate.
Nicole Robinson, of suburban Maryland, discovered that a woman in Texas had stolen her identity. Five years after the fact, Ms. Robinson still cannot expunge the Texan's bad credit record from her own, even though the other woman has been arrested. "I'm now an alias of her," Ms. Robinson says, "or she's an alias of me." The computer systems cannot tell they are separate people.
David Fathi, a Washington lawyer, flies frequently for his work, but finds himself detained at the airport once out of every four or so flights because he's on a government 'no fly' list. He doesn't know which is worse: the fact that the government won't tell him why he's on the list, or how to get off it - or the fact that the 'no fly' list is so poorly observed that the authorities only stop him intermittently.
Jennings reports that, despite the public opposition to some of the government's more ambitious data surveillance programs -- such as "Total Information Awareness," which Congress shut down due to concerns about privacy -- efforts to create domestic intelligence capability continue.
"Peter Jennings Reporting: No Place to Hide" is a collaboration with The Center for Investigative Reporting and Washington Post staff reporter Robert O'Harrow. Mr. O'Harrow has recently published a book of the same title (Free Press). Peter Bull is the producer of "No Place to Hide." Tom Yellin is the executive producer of "Peter Jennings Reporting."