Should security trump privacy in wake of Boston bombings?

The Boston Marathon bombings could re-ignite a conversation about when national security ought to trump privacy, but according to Tom Ridge and John Manley, two men who were at the front lines of security policy after the Sept. 11 attacks, people's attitudes on the issue may have changed since then.
This frame grab from a video released by the FBI on Thursday, April 18, 2013, shows what the FBI are calling suspect number 1, front, in black cap, and suspect number 2, in white cap, back right, walking near each other through the crowd in Boston on Monday, April 15, 2013, before the explosions at the Boston Marathon. (AP Photo/FBI)

The Boston Marathon bombings could re-ignite a conversation about when national security ought to trump privacy, but two men who were at the front lines of security policy after the Sept. 11 attacks say people's attitudes on the issue may have changed since then.

In an interview that aired Saturday on CBC Radio's The House, former deputy prime minister John Manley – whose own daughter escaped the Boston Marathon bombings unscathed – and the first U.S. secretary of homeland security, Tom Ridge, weighed in the possible fallout from the bombing that killed three people and injured hundreds more last Monday.

"You're going to see that the need for surveillance cameras and equipment is increasingly in demand by law enforcement," said Manley, who was foreign affairs minister at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Back when I was a minister, we had big issues about whether we could have surveillance cameras on streets," said Manley who was also named chair of a Cabinet committee on public security and anti-terrorism.

"I think of the effects of an event like this is, people are going to say 'I actually want those cameras because I want people to know that they will likely be caught. My safety is more important than whether I can walk down the street without my image appearing on a camera,'" said Manley, who is now president and CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, based in Ottawa.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was counting on exactly that when it appealed to the public for help in identifying two suspects after combing through countless tips, including hundreds of pictures and videos of the bombing site.

"It's a good debate … but the fact of the matter is this is a digital age," said Ridge, who was appointed first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2003 by U.S. President George W. Bush.

"There is so much video that is available, whether it's commercial from the Lord & Taylor across the street [from the bombing site], government, or just citizens who now have this predisposition to tape everything."

"The digital world offers some opportunities, it offers some challenges," said Ridge, who is now president and CEO of Ridge Global, a security and risk-management firm based in Washington, D.C.

'Just a matter of time'

Manley heard of Monday's Boston Marathon bombings first-hand after receiving a call from his daughter who happened to be at the event.

"As it turns out she was on the sidewalk in Boston between the two bombs when they exploded," Manley said. "I was flying back to Ottawa and that was my first news. It was one of those moments when you think oh my gosh… that was close."

While Manley's daughter survived the Boston attacks, she did not escape entirely unscathed.

"She saw some things that were pretty graphic as she stepped over pieces of humanity on the street. It was pretty gruesome from all accounts that she gave us," Manley said.

While this was the first successful attack on a U.S. city since 9/11, Ridge said "we always felt it was just a matter of time … and suddenly it happened in such a ruthless, random, indiscriminate manner and that's what terrorism is all about."

"Then you try to figure out what the motive is and then you say to yourself, the motive right now isn't important. Let's get the perpetrators before they act again."

The FBI identified the two suspects as brothers who were born into a family that fled from the troubled region of Chechnya but who had been living in the U.S for the better part of a decade.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the 19-year-old suspected of co-orchestrating the Boston Marathon bombings, was captured Friday. His older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed during a gun fight with police overnight Thursday.

John Manley, then-deputy prime minister, shakes hands with Tom Ridge, the first U.S. secretary of homeland security on Oct.3, 2003, at the start of a meeting to review implementation of the Smart Border Declaration signed in December 2001. (Tobin Grimshaw/The Canadian Press)

"At the end of the day, given the close working relationship our intelligence and law enforcement communities have, there will be lessons learned," Ridge said.

Some of those lessons will be "applied privately," he said. "And that'll be important for both countries to do."

In the wake of 9/11, Manley and Ridge signed the Smart Border Declaration, a 30-point plan to harmonize security and anti-terrorism regulations in the two countries, including the creation of a common no-fly list and passenger surveillance system.