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Columns

January 2, 2010

Technology changes meaning of connections

Ten years ago, we were breathing a sigh of relief after the Y2K doomsday scenarios did not come to pass. Many schools, businesses and agencies did invest in technology to avoid costly and inconvenient computer meltdowns, but, by and large, the new millennium arrived without incident.

Little did we know: The real disaster would occur 21 months later, and with it would come new fears and new challenges.

It's impossible to imagine what lies ahead in the next decade, except to say that there will be many more challenges: the continuing threats of terrorism and infectious diseases; the need to rein in health care costs while also providing high-quality care for our aging population; and the ongoing work to strengthen our economy, protect our natural resources and find new, more-sustainable ways to produce food and energy, to name a few.

Technology will continue to evolve in ways we can only begin to imagine, and we will need to figure out how to balance privacy and security. The controversy over the high-tech airport scanners that might have detected the materials used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to ignite explosives aboard a Northwest Airlines jet as it was coming in for a landing in Detroit on Christmas Day, is a case in point. Are we willing to let airport screeners do a virtual strip search every time we fly if it means keeping us safe? According to the Associated Press, 19 U.S. airports use full-body imaging scanners that can detect dangerous items hidden beneath clothing, but privacy concerns have prevented more-widespread use.

Terrorism is just one front in the erosion of privacy, and it's the one where most people (including me) are probably willing to give up a little freedom in exchange for safety. But developments in technology over the past decade are creating many other privacy issues.

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