In the 21st century, freedom is the foundation upon which nearly all of our beliefs and ideals are built, but this freedom we crave may be more harmful than we realize.With concern about the war, we demand freedom of the press. With government budgets, we demand freedom of access. With controversial issues, our definitions of freedom may vary. For example, with abortion, some believe that freedom includes the right to choose and others believe it includes the right to live.
What could possibly be harmful about these freedoms we believe our constitution grants? Well, freedom is always related to knowledge – either directly or indirectly – so when we are allowed certain freedoms, we gain access to certain knowledge. And sometimes we may learn things we did not want or need to know.
On youtube.com, people post videos of themselves or of others, in many contexts. Streaming feed is available on everything from original music videos to homemade lip-syncing videos. But there’s also information about how to make bombs – stink bombs, smoke bombs and, as one video claims, nuclear bombs. But even if these amateur videos aren’t accurate, a Google search of “homemade bombs” yields 871,000 hits in less than two-tenths of a second.
The Internet is perhaps the largest database of people doing whatever they want whether their actions are within the bounds of the law. Usually people defend their actions with the First Amendment, citing the right to free speech.
But is it really ethical to allow terrorists or violence-minded people to post this kind of information?
Of course not. Not only should they not have that knowledge, but they shouldn’t make it available to others who will misuse it.
A consumer-oriented example of the misuse of knowledge is identity theft. A determined identity thief can do anything including hacking into a computer to steal physical credit cards. There are preventative measures against identity theft, but there are also innovations that ironically take us a few steps backward.
According to a March 14 article by the Associated Press, Ed McLaughlin, president of Sharp Document Solutions Company of America, for the past five years, copy machines have been equipped with hard drives. The idea is, if an original is ever lost, it can easily be retrieved from this hard drive.
The invention poses no problem in a typical office environment where all that’s being copied are meeting agendas and memos, but what about the machine in the break room where people copy passports, tax and social security information for personal use? An un-encrypted hard drive can spell danger for users should it falls into the wrong hands.
In an effort to convenience ourselves, it seems we have ended up making things a little harder. In the case of the copy machines, both Sharp and Xerox are manufacturing software packages that encrypt and overwrite images so they don’t remain on the hard drive indefinitely. Luckily for us, these companies came to the consumer’s rescue with an equitable solution, but such is not the case with all technology.
With technological advancements come complicated decisions. The more accessible information becomes, the harder it is to keep it out of the wrong hands. Unfortunately, fellow consumers are not enough of a governing body to affect such radical change. Instead, with the encouragement of the public, the law should expand along with our advances so that we can guard against wrongdoings.
As Sir Francis Bacon declared, “Knowledge is power.” So who do you want holding the reigns?
Anahita Kalianivala is a freshman English and psychology major from Fort Worth. Her column appears Tuesdays.