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Gates: Orwell was wrong about Big Brother
09:10 Thursday 26th June 2003
Declan McCullagh, CNET News.com 

The Microsoft chairman says his technology will make the US more secure without infringing on personal privacy

On the 100th anniversary of George Orwell's birth, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the author of Nineteen Eighty-four was only partially correct and predicted that technology will help preserve privacy rights.

Gates told a homeland-security conference on Wednesday afternoon that Orwell's dystopian vision of the future, in which Big Brother used technology as a form of social control, "didn't come true, and I don't believe it will."

Microsoft's chief software architect used his appearance in Washington to stress his company's willingness to work with the federal government on combating terrorism and to tout his company's Trustworthy Computing initiative and its controversial next-generation secure computing base," a project previously known as Palladium. "We're working with a variety of hardware and software partners to provide this level of protection against future viruses, threats from hackers or anyone seeking to acquire personal information or digital property with malicious intent," Gates said.

"This technology can make our country more secure and prevent the nightmare vision of George Orwell at the same time," Gates said. "Orwell didn't anticipate how technology can be used to protect privacy. The fact that technology can protect both security and privacy by protecting the computer systems and the information on them is a positive thing."

Orwell, the British author whose works include Animal Farm, Nineteen Eighty-four, and the essay "Politics and the English Language," was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair. He was born in India on 25 June, 1903 and rose to prominence as one of the 20th century's most influential authors as a result of his biting critiques of totalitarianism.

Gates' remarks, to a conference organised by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Information Technology Industry Council, come as the nation's capital is weighing antiterrorism concerns against privacy and other civil liberties. The US Department of Justice has drafted a legislative proposal asking for more surveillance powers, while congressional scrutiny of the Pentagon's Terrorist Information Awareness (TIA) initiative is increasing.

Without taking a stand on the TIA system, which previously was called Total Information Awareness, Gates applauded increased information sharing between government agencies. He cited current law-enforcement efforts to share criminal databases, but predicted that, "unless this system is properly connected to the entire Homeland Security command structure, the potential will not be fully realised."

"We're proud to be involved in the effort to connect a significant portion of the federal homeland-security community into a national information-sharing and intelligence-analysis network," Gates said.

In President Bush's State of the Union address in January, he described a forthcoming government database -- called the Terrorist Threat Integration Center -- that would compile information from all federal agencies and the private sector on people deemed possible terrorist threats.

John Hamre, president of CSIS and a former deputy secretary of defense, defended TIA in an afternoon speech that followed Gates' remarks. "I think we need a domestic surveillance organisation in this country... I think they're really on to something," he said, talking about Admiral John Poindexter's plans to create the TIA system.

Hamre said that critics of TIA, who have worried that it may lead to the creation of a computerised dossier on every American, are misinformed. "They've engineered privacy into it... We need people to shoulder their honest responsibilities for oversight."

Who's watching you? Get the latest on spy networks such as Echelon and Carnivore, as well as privacy issues for companies and individuals alike, at ZDNet UK's Privacy News Section.

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