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The Day Our Lives Changed

Sept. 11, 2001, will be a date that will affect us for as long as we live.
There are times when the written word can neither adequately convey the emotions that people feel, nor sufficiently describe the impact of an event on our lives. Each of us has experienced personal tragedy. When the horror of thousands of individual losses is compounded on a single day by a deliberate and coordinated attack on a nation's way of life, language cannot express the sense of outrage and pain we all share.

The destruction of the World Trade Center will affect how we view our national and personal security for as long as we live. It will change how we look at terrorism throughout the world. It will alter our response to those who call for our downfall. Sept. 11, 2001, will be a turning point in our perception of the most mundane elements of our political, personal, and professional lives.

Those of us in the information technology community will work with a sense of urgency and dedication to make sure that that we minimize the disruption in our businesses and community that can be caused by terrorism--acts of violence that make our concerns about Y2K look like child's play. We will all find where we stored the plans we made for the year 2000 and institutionalize contingency planning and disaster recovery as a way of life, when before they may have just been a theoretical possibility. It is real; it has happened; it can occur again.

The more difficult part will come next. The national dialogue about privacy of information and security of personal data is about to be altered inexorably. When the desire for individual rights collides with a consensus that we are too vulnerable to terrorism, the result is always the same: the populace will choose safety.

As a free society, we have differed among ourselves about whether the government should have the right to read our E-mail or have the keys to our encryption codes. Are we willing to give the FBI, CIA, or National Security Agency the ability to search through what we send to each other? What about our personal freedom? Who can trust Big Brother? That argument is over. Does anyone actually believe that we will risk anything that may contribute to another attack such as the one we have just experienced?

Some people have been concerned about requiring new cell phones to be equipped with location monitors, ostensibly to help find an individual who calls 911. Such devices can be used to locate any of us as we go about our daily lives. Do we want to give our communications carriers and hence the government such information? Now, there will be few questions asked. Would anyone want to hamper our security forces if they can help track down potential mass murders?

Will we require possession of a national personal identity card that uses biometric technology before a person can board an airplane? Will there be greatly enhanced databases built about anyone who may pose a threat in someone's opinion--based in some cases on no more than where an individual's parents were born? Certainly these actions will be discussed.

There will be a discourse about whether we play into the hands of terrorists if we permit the hard-won freedoms that we enjoy to be curtailed by a horrific series of attacks upon us. It's appropriate that we have such a discussion--let us make our choices carefully. Hopefully, it will be a dialogue without anger and hostility toward those who disagree with our own particular point of view. The result, however, is likely foretold. Our perception of appropriate individual rights of privacy will be modified to increase physical security for our loved ones and ourselves.

Information technology will be used to fight terrorism. Of that there is no doubt. Those of us who have spent the better part of our working life in corporations will find a profound alteration in the application of our skills. In small ways and large ones, whether it's thinking of easy ways to pass information to the government for background checks on travelers or cooperating with law enforcement agencies by providing detailed data about those who are buying certain of our products, we'll concentrate more on protecting our society and less on the rights of the individual. Our professional approach to the world of information technology will never be the same.

Robert M. Rubin is CEO of Valley Management Consultants, a firm specializing in E-business and information technology strategy, organizational design, and evaluation. Prior to joining VMC, he was senior vice president and CIO for Elf Atochem North America, a $2 billion diversified chemical company. The recipient of multiple industry awards, he is a contributing editor to InformationWeek and a member of its advisory board. He can be reached at [email protected].