Forum On 'Big Brother Technologies' Set At Virginia Tech

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 18, 2003 – "Big Brother Technologies," a Choices and Challenges forum, will take place March 27 at the Donaldson Brown Hotel and Conference Center at Virginia Tech. This event features experts in subjects such as: surveillance technologies; legal traditions and genetic technology; data collection; databases to the literary origins of "Big Brother"; and dealing with terrorism.

"As Americans, we value our privacy and cherish the freedom to live our lives without intrusion or interference from others," said Doris Zallen, director of the Choices and Challenges forums at Virginia Tech. "Yet technology is providing a variety of new tools that can alter our sense of privacy."

The forum is free and open to the public. Registration begins at 7:30 a.m., continues with background sessions in the morning and the main session at 11 a.m., an audience question-and-answer session at 1:30, follow-up sessions beginning at 2:15, and coffee and conversation at 3:45.

The forum came about because of the possibilities for the invasion of people's privacy. "Surveillance devices can follow our movements and eavesdrop on our conversations," said Mary Ellen Jones, project coordinator. "DNA tests can identify people and their potential for acquiring certain diseases through their genetic makeup. Computer-based data sharing can provide information to doctors about our medical conditions and to telemarketers about our likes and dislikes."

Just how much privacy, the forum asks, are we willing to give up? "When is this invasion of our privacy acceptable--and when does it pose a threat?" said Eileen Crist, project co-director. "How can we resolve the tension between personal privacy and public security in the post-9/11 world?"

In the main session, a moderator and panel members will engage in a wide-ranging discussion about Big Brother technologies, including new modes of personal identification, powerful tools for surveillance, and highly efficient procedures for data collection and sharing. The panel's moderator is E. Haavi Morreim, author of many works on the ethical and legal implications of medicine's economics and a consultant in medical ethics and patient-advocacy issues.

The panel consists of Andrew L. Feenberg, author of works on human (contactname, contactphone, contactemail, headline, leadsentence, morepara, releasedate, storysource, releasenumber, college, itemnumber, releaseyear) VALUES in the design of computer networks and on democratizing technology; Paul B. Ferrara, a forensics expert in the use of DNA technology; Frank J. Gaffney Jr., an internationally recognized expert on foreign and defense-policy matters; Helen Nissenbaum, author of works on the ethical dimensions of information and communications technology and policy, including privacy and security issues; and Marc Rotenberg, a leading expert in cyberspace law and policy.

Associated with the forum, a March 24 play called Me and my Google by Wyatt Galusky and Jeff B├╝echler will take a comic look at identity and privacy in the digital age. The plot centers around the interactions of a young woman, her digital self--or the embodiment of how she is represented online--and new forms of information technology such as the Internet, data collection, forms of identification, and surveillance. The performance integrates several different techniques such as filmed segments demonstrating various modes of surveillance and alternate endings for each act determined by audience choice. The play will be presented Monday, March 24, at 5 p.m. in 204 Performing Arts Building on Tech's campus. The Big Brothers Technology forum is presented by the Virginia Tech Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy, and the Graduate School at Virginia Tech.

For details or further information, see the Choices and Challenges web site at or call (540)231-6476 or send e-mail to

Pre-registration is encouraged to allow for sufficient seating and supplies of printed materials. Register online at or by calling (540)231-5182.