Online privacy at odds with security

Thursday, 12 September 2002, 12:06 AM EST

The concern over online privacy is nothing new. Even the staunchest critics were silenced after people figured out what cookies could really be used for and that hitting the "delete" key did not mean a file was gone for good.

It's just that last year's attacks heightened our fear of the role that computers play. E-mail suddenly became an agent of terrorism and detailed information about American trade centers and monuments could be accessed easily through the Web.

The problem is that what some consider a loss of freedom is also a balancing act for companies doing business on the Internet.

The U.S.A. Patriot Act, drafted after last year's attacks, allows the FBI to monitor e-mail of people it suspects have contacts with a foreign power. A report issued this week by Paris-based Reporters without Borders said messages from innocent private citizens have been intercepted. The group also said intelligence services in the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Denmark, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe and the G8 nations have made ISPs and telecommunications companies into "a potential arm of the police."

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