Something struck me as I was sitting with some panel members at the recent National Hvacr Security Summit. The event, cosponsored byThe Newsand the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), brought together industry experts to discuss measures to combat bioterrorism in our nation’s buildings.

Mike Yoshida, a consultant for Siemens Building Technologies, was discussing some ideas he was working on to make buildings more secure and safe. But he stopped short of giving out too many details.

“I don’t want to give you the details because I don’t know everyone in the room,” he said.

Yoshida’s comments cut right to the chase. Just how much information regarding building security should be made public?

How do we know that the information we encounter daily isn’t being used against us? Will our enemies use our own research to cause us harm? When do we turn off the spigot and reduce the flow of information — if at all?

While the emergence of instant information via the Internet has been a boon to journalists, students, and just plain folks who want to expand their knowledge base, it also carries a heavy price tag. Web junkies can assemble guns and bombs with ingredients and directions found on the Internet. It is easier to bring harm to others, thanks to a lot of websites that skirt the law under the umbrella of “freedom of speech.”

Unfortunately, the “good” information, such as research on effects of biochemical terrorism, when placed in the wrong hands, can do just as much damage as directions on making a fertilizer bomb.


I posed the question of freedom of information to a few people in cyberspace and came up with some interesting answers.

Some people feel that limiting freedom of speech plays right into our enemies’ hands. By daring us to limit access to information, they are toying with our minds. If we curtail our freedom of expression, their plan to wreck havoc on the U.S. public would have succeeded.

Others feel that limiting access to information only delays the inevitable — that the people who are determined to find the information will find it, despite the barriers. In their minds, it would be fruitless to try and suppress such things as test data and case histories.

Should sensitive information, like contaminant test results, be made available to the public?

My opinion? Hell no.

But should it be made available to persons with the proper security clearance? Yes.

However, short of retina scans and voice recognition security coding, how do we know that someone has passed all necessary security clearances? We don’t know.

Hence our dilemma. Should we continue to publish results of sensitive test data regarding bioterrorism, or should we hold back until we can “identify everyone in the room”? Some websites have already pulled back data upon learning that it wasn’t “secure.” Knowing what we know about hackers and computer viruses sent via e-mails, is it any wonder that we have our doubts about Internet security? We may have been worried about “Big Brother” watching us in the past, now we have to worry about “Big Terrorist” tapping into our Web space.

Sept. 11 taught us to question everything. Will we ever feel secure about anything now?

These are difficult questions to answer. As a member of the media, I don’t want limitations to my access to information. But I’ll gladly make sacrifices if it means saving one innocent life.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6214 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 02/04/2002