Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Mumbai Attacks

Many commentators have stated that the recent terrorist attacks in Mumbai were a "low-tech" affair. On the surface this description seems apt as the gunmen relied on automatic weapons and grenades to carry out their assualt. However, an article in the Washington Post describes how the attackers made clever use of technology to aid in the execution of their attack. Specifically the article writes,
The heavily armed attackers who set out for Mumbai by sea last week navigated with Global Positioning System equipment, according to Indian investigators and police. They carried BlackBerrys, CDs holding high-resolution satellite images like those used for Google Earth maps, and multiple cellphones with switchable SIM cards that would be hard to track. They spoke by satellite telephone.
An obvious reaction this information is to condemn technology for enabling terrorist to increase their deadly efficiently. Many politicians have called for restrictions on technology in an effort to impede terrorists from gaining a tactical advantage. For example, Indian government officials previously worked out a deal with Google to degrade satellite imagery of select sensitive locations in India.

I have no problem with targeted and specific efforts to restrain technology out of fear that it can be abused by terrorist and other malicious actors. However, I worry that politicians may only focus on the malevolent uses of technology causing them to overreach in an effort to regulate against potential and in many cases unrealistic abuses of technology.

It is important to remember that technology is neither inherently good or evil. It is what people make out of it and it can be used to achieve the goals of its users - both good and bad. Interestingly, the Mumbai attacks demonstrated both the positive and the negatives uses of technology. While the terrorists used technology to aid in their attack, the citizens of Mumbai also used to technology to disseminate information about the attack in real-time. These unfilitered first hand accounts of the attacks, posted to sites like Twitter and Flickr, may have served to reduce panic as people were able to connect with friends and family in a timely fashion.

As a result, lets remember not to blame technology and blindly seek to regulate it.

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