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February Book Club: Skating on Stilts by Stewart Baker

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In the years after 9/11, officials scrambled to rethink security at the border and in the air-while privacy groups and foreign governments did their best to stop and then roll back security measures. As a result, we have only partially closed gaping security holes. Worse, the resistance has made it all but impossible to head off other disasters that are inherent in new technologies such as computer networks and biotech.

Stewart A. Baker draws on his experience at Homeland Security to give the reader a ringside seat as the battle unfolds. In a lively memoir, he describes his agency s post-9/11 strategy to rebuild border security on a foundation of better information about travelers, and the bitter resistance the strategy met from privacy campaigners in the United States and Europe. He shows how a left-right privacy coalition helped set the stage for the Christmas Day bombing.

Looking to the future, Baker examines two new technologies that carry within them the seeds of disasters more damaging than 9/11. As with border security, we can avoid catastrophe by changing our current course a few degrees, building prudent new security measures around information networks and biotechnology. But that course faces stiff resistance from the same groups that fought new security measures after 9/11. Baker argues that privacy campaigners should abandon their stance of opposing all new government uses of technology. Instead of fighting the inevitable in the name of privacy, we should embrace new technologies that offer new ways to protect citizens from abuse.