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lurk just out of sight, ready to wrap the US in webs of surveillance the moment we let down our guard Compared with both the fictional Oceania of George Orwell's "1984" and to many of today's totalitarian states, privacy in the US is well protected.
It does mean, Oettinger and other experts say that we must watch for a step-by-step erosion of privacy by government agencies, corporations, and other institutions
The benefits of new high-tech activities - from the use of computers to detect welfare fraud, to banking with electronic tellers, to on-line criminal information systems - should be weighed against possible intrusive effects.
"It's a balancing act." says Oettinger. The balance is between privacy, an important value, and a lot of other things that we might want."
The US. since its founding has officially prized privacy. The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, for instance, guarantees the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers. and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures
But at the same time. US society professes admiration for those who have nothing to hide, for men and women whose lives are an open book.
"There is a stress on privacy in the US, and at the
same time there is a stress
verse we probably will have to recognize that there are a number of things that can't be exactly private"
The complexity of modern life, in other words, means that date we might prefer to keep private such as bank balances and health records, won't be under our control
And control, she says, is what privacy is all about control over access to information we define as our personal domain. We thus guard our sense of identity
"We recoù from those who would tap our telephones read our letters, bug our rooms. Mrs. Bok writes No matter how little we have to hide. no matter how benevolent their intentions, we take such intrusions to be demeaning.
on openness. That helps Sisse's Boic: there's too much government secrecy create a tension, I think,
between concealment and revelation," says Sissela Bok, author of the book "Secrets."
Mrs. Bok, a Swedish-born philosopher, is the wife of Harvard president Derek Bok. Her father, economist Gunnar Myrdal, and her mother, peace activist Alva Myrdal, have both won Nobel Prizes.
Her elegant home is near Brattle Street in Cambridge. Outside the library, evening and a late-season snow are falling as she discusses privacy, technology, and secrets.
"With computers, we are in a whole new universe with respect to [protection of privacy)," she says. "In this uni
When our privacy is invaded. someone or something shows power over us. "If we had no privacy at all not even the capacity to protect it with secrets, we would be utterly vulner able. she says.
But privacy for people is not the issue that most concerns Mrs. Box. Instead, she expresses concern about government secrecy.
The Reagan administration, she feels, has tried hard to slam shut doors to much information. It has become more difficult to pry loose documents through the Freedom of Information Act, she says: Presidential Directive 84. withdrawn after being blocked by Congress, would have required many officials to sign lifetime secrecy agreements.
"I feel very strongly that there has been a tremendous move towards greater official secrecy in many areas," she says.
Mrs. Bok says the US already has far too many secrets. She cites studies saying that many things labeled "top secret" are innocuous.
The light in the library is fading. Yes, Mrs. Bok concludes, there are technologies whose intrusive potential bears watching. Yet much information is still our own.
"Sometimes people, I think, assume in this country that there is little that is private anymore, little that is secret," she says. "There I just think they are wrong. actually."
Last in a series. Previous articles ran April 16-20.
Reagan Orders Action on Eavesdropping
By DAVID BURNHAM
Special to The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Oct. 14-President Reagan, acting on on intelligence reports that Soviet eavesdropping is a serious security threat, has ordered the creation of a cabinet-level group to combat it.
"This approach must include mech- telecommunications and computer sys-
Cabinet-Level Steering Group
The directive, written by the staff of the National Security Council, established the Systems Security Steering Mr. Reagan signed a directive three Group, made up of the Secretaries of weeks ago spelling out the extent of the State, Treasury and Defense, the Attorthreat and ordering a Government ney General, the director of the Office move to reduce the loss of Government of Management and Budget and the Diand private industry information that rector of Central Intelligence. might help the Soviet Union or other In addition to setting overall policies, the directive said the steering group was responsible for reviewing all communication security proposals before they were submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for the normal budget review process." ;.
According to the unclassified version of the President's order, equipment that is used to eavesdrop on telephone conversations and other kinds of electronic messages is now widely available and "is being used extensively by foreign nations." The order added that the technology "can be employed by terrorist groups and criminal ele ments."
The directive's explicit requirement that the budget office review and ap prove all electronic security programs appeared to thwart efforts by the National Security Agency, which suggested this summer that it should be come the "national focal point for communications security requirements
With the widespread use of microwave towers and satellites to transmit telephone messages and other data, the messages of Government, businesses and funding." and individuals have become increasingly subject to interception. Antennas in Cuba and on Soviet trawlers cruising offshore reportedly are able to identify and record much of this traffic.
Agency Has Twin Missions
The National Security Agency is the nation's largest and most secret intelligence organization. With an estimated annual budget of $4 billion, its twin misSpecial Telephone Equipment sions are to collect electronic intelliWhile the Ford and Carter adminis- gence all over the world and protect the trations were concerned about the sensitive communications of the problem and ordered some changes in United States. It also serves as the Government practices to deal with it, principal adviser to the President and Mr. Reagan's National Security Deck the National Security Council on comsion Directive 145 is the first public as munication security questions. sertion by a President that interna- President Reagan's directive set up tional eavesdropping constitutes a the National Telecommunications and threat to the United States. Information Systems Security ComThe President's directive was ob mittee, subordinate to the cabinet level tained after Walter G. Deeley, the Na- steering group. This committee has 14 tional Security Agency's deputy direc- members, including the Chairman of tor for communications security, dis the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Director of closed in an interview that the agency the Federal Bureau of Investigation hoped to equip Government and indus- and the director of the top security try with 500,000 special telephones. The agency. The committee was ordered to telephones are meant to make it far establish two subcommittees, one more difficult for eavesdroppers to focusing on telephone security and the conduct electronic surveillance. other on computer security.
Mr. Reagan said that both Govern- In a third major assignment, Mr.. ment and privately owned communica- Reagan authorized the security agency tion networks currently transmit large to serve as the "national manager" for amounts of classified and unclassified telephone and computer security. In information that, when put together, this role, the agency was authorized to can reveal important secrets. conduct, approve or endorse all Gov"The compromise of this informa- ernment research on this problem. tion, especially to hostile intelligence The President's directive also orders services, does serious damage to the the agency to examine Government United States and its national security
interests," Mr. Reagan's directive
The order explicitly authorized the agency to monitor "official communi cations" but added that such mentor ing "shall be conducted in strict com pliance with the law, Executive Orders and applicable Presidential direc tives."
The Presidential directive did not say the agency had the right to monitor the communications of private corporations, but guidelines under which such monitoring may be conducted were approved by Attorney General William French Smith earlier this year in a letter to Lincoln D. Faurer, director of the security agency. The guide lines said;
"The Government shall not monitor telecommunications systems which are owned or leased by Government contractors for their own use without first obtaining the express written ap proval of the chief executive officer of the contractor organization."
The Attorney General's rules added that monitoring by the security agency or other Government agencies should not be begun until steps have been im plemented sufficiently to afford ade quate notice to the contractor organiza tion's employees."
But the guidelines noted that "indermation acquired incidentally from gov ernment telecommunications during the course of authorized comme tion security monitoring which related directly to a significant crime" should be referred to the military commander or law enforcement agency with parts diction.
"The results of monitoring may be used in a criminal prosecution wi out prior consultation with the gener counsel of the department or which performed the mords guidelines said.