[Congressional Record: April 7, 2005 (Extensions)]
[Page E590]



                       HON. ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON

                      of the district of columbia

                    in the house of representatives

                        Wednesday, April 6, 2005

  Ms. NORTON. Mr. Speaker, today, I reintroduce the United States 
Commission on an Open Society and Security Act, expressing an idea I 
began working on when the first signs of the closing of parts of our 
open society appeared after the Oklahoma City bombing tragedy, well 
before 9/11. This bill has grown more urgent as increasing varieties of 
security throughout the country have proliferated without any thought 
about their effect on common freedoms and ordinary access. The bill I 
introduce today would begin a systematic investigation that takes full 
account of the importance of maintaining our democratic traditions 
while responding adequately to the real and substantial threats 
terrorism poses.
  To be useful in accomplishing its difficult mission, the commission 
would be composed not only of military and security experts, but for 
the first time, they would be at the same table with experts from such 
fields as business, architecture, technology, law, city planning, art, 
engineering, philosophy, history, sociology, and psychology. To date, 
questions of security most often have been left almost exclusively to 
security and military experts. They are indispensable participants, but 
these experts cannot alone resolve all the new and unprecedented issues 
raised by terrorism in an open society. In order to strike the balance 
required by our democratic traditions, a cross cutting group needs to 
be working together at the same table.
  For years now before our eyes, parts of our open society have 
gradually been closed down because of terrorism and fear of terrorism--
whether checkpoints at the Capital even when there are no alerts or 
applications of technology without regard to their effects on privacy. 
However, particularly following the unprecedented terrorist attack on 
our country, Americans have a right to expect additional and increased 
security adequate to protect citizens against this new frightening 
threat. People expect government to be committed and smart enough to 
undertake this awesome new responsibility without depriving them of 
their personal liberty. These years in our history will long be 
remembered by the rise of terrorism in the world and in this country. 
As a result, American society faces new and unprecedented challenges. 
We must provide ever-higher levels of security for our people and 
public spaces while maintaining a free and open democratic society. As 
yet, our country has no systematic process or strategy for meeting 
these challenges.
  When we have been faced with unprecedented and perplexing issues in 
the past, we have had the good sense to investigate them deeply and to 
move to resolve them. Examples include the National Commission on 
Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 
Commission), the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the 
United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction (also known as the 
Silberman Robb Commission) and the Kerner Commission following riotous 
uprisings that swept American cities in the 1960's and 1970's.
  The important difference in the Commission proposed by this bill is 
that it seeks to act before a crisis in basic freedoms gradually takes 
hold and becomes entrenched. Because global terrorism is likely to be 
long lasting, we can not afford to allow the proliferation of security 
that most often requires no advance civilian oversight or analysis of 
alternatives and repercussions on freedom and commerce.
  With only existing tools and thinking, we have been left to muddle 
through, using blunt 19th century approaches, such as crude blockades 
and other denials of access, or risking the right to privacy using 
applications of the latest technology with little attention to privacy. 
The threat of terrorism to our democratic society is too serious to be 
left to ad hoc problem-solving. Such approaches are often as inadequate 
as they are menacing.
  We can do better, but only if we recognize and then come to grips 
with the complexities associated with maintaining a society of free and 
open access in a world characterized by unprecedented terrorism. The 
place to begin is with a high-level presidential commission of wise men 
and women expert in a broad spectrum of disciplines who can help chart 
the new course that will be required to protect both our people and our 
precious democratic institutions and traditions.