Letters to the Editor

Protection or totalitarianism?

I was alarmed by your product review of face recognition software, 'Look me in the eye'or in the face' [GCN, April 29, Page 30]. I don't mind if software does jobs that security guards do today; what scares me is the possibility, which face recognition software could make feasible, of tracking everyone's movements in public places and keeping a permanent record of where everyone has been.

What the Soviet Union's armies of human watchers could not do, the United States will do with armies of computers.

The excuse will be protecting us from terrorism, but that can be done nearly as well without subjecting us to total government surveillance. Police will abuse the system'to infiltrate, disrupt and frame political opposition, and to pressure women for sex.

Both types of abuse happen already. The latter is nicknamed 'running a plate for a date.' Keeping total records on every citizen will expand the potential for abuse.

Part of the solution could be to require a search warrant for government operation of a permanent recording video camera pointed at a public place. The warrant would have to specify the place and a set period of time. This is not what President Bush and attorney general John Ashcroft want, but it is what our freedom needs.

Richard Stallman

President, Free Software Foundation

Cambridge, Mass.


Editor's note: The writer read the facial recognition review as a reprint in The Washington Post.

Listen to records managers

I try to read all the privacy and Freedom of Information Act-related articles in IT magazines. Your column by Robert Gellman, 'On privacy, U.S. should look to the north,' was a good article [GCN, May 20, Page 33].

It is scary the amount of data being collected about citizens by governments and companies. The federal government has a way to combat this trend but is unable or unwilling to do so. Federal records managers'personnel who oversee federal records'also oversee the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act. These people are supposed to have input in the creation of computer programs that capture and retain information. This includes ensuring that such programs retain records for the appropriate amount of time and determining whether these records contain data covered under the Privacy Act.

If files contain Privacy Act data, records managers must ensure only authorized personnel have access to them. We also need to know how the data can be used and when it is no longer needed.

The problem is that we records managers are often not included in the creation of capture-and-retention programs. Even when we are considered part of the IT team, we are not always included in team decisions. When we are included, it's likely you'll find the government is treating the Privacy Act data correctly.

In one instance, I was able to stop the use of Privacy Act data in a computer program because I found out about it before the program was deployed. Had I been involved in the creation of the program, the agency could have avoided the program in the first place, and the organization could have received a replacement program earlier.

Of course, it is possible I might never have found out about the faulty program, and my organization would be using the Privacy Act illegally.

David W. Crutcher

Installation records manager, Army

Fort Sill, Okla.

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