Karen Joyce Klitzman was a woman of the world. Graduated from Princeton and Columbia, she spent years living near Hong Kong, taught English in Beijing, traveled throughout Siberia and explored the Middle East.
21 years ago this week her life was snuffed out at age 38. Klitzman was one of about 3,000 innocent victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
I reported from the Trade Center while the attack was underway.
Here are transcripts from some of my on-the-scene radio broadcasts:
“I saw the impact of the second plane hitting the South Tower. There was a loud bang, it was an earsplitting crack followed by a fireball. There was a great deal of smoke and debris falling. People started to run, screaming and shrieking.”
Then the course of history was altered. “I saw the South Tower collapse. There was a rumble and a banging noise. There was so much debris and dust flying around. I was in a large group of people, at first we thought we were safe, but it quickly became apparent that we were not.”
In another broadcast I said: “Let me tell you what the scene is like now in Lower Manhattan. The air is thick, it almost appears like very fine volcanic ash. It’s as much as four inches deep on the street.
It’s surreal, it feels like the aftermath of a battle. Body parts are littering the streets.”
In the years since the attacks, I have been appalled by the erosion of civil liberties and privacy in America. There are two forces driving those trends — the war on terrorism and rapid technological advances.
The daily lives of American citizens have been fundamentally changed by well intentioned, often necessary, occasionally over-reaching measures to hunt down and punish evil people who attacked the United States.
We have gone to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and expanded authoritarian measures following the passage of the Patriot Act, the Aviation and Transportation Security Act, and more than one hundred other pieces of legislation designed to counteract terrorism.
Congress created the cabinet level Department of Homeland Security, poured billions of dollars into beefing up federal and local police. Safety measures have cost air travelers millions of hours of time and an estimated $20 billion for enhanced passenger and baggage screening.
Before 9/11, airport security, by design, was almost invisible. Now travelers stand in endless lines at security checkpoints. People are ordered to empty their pockets, take off their shoes, and pass through high-tech scanning machines. This after possibly being sniffed by dogs. Pilots can carry loaded guns while cloistered in hardened cockpits. and there are more undercover air marshals on flights.
There was also a public backlash against Muslims, enhanced government-issued identification documents, increased security at schools, office buildings and hotels.
I can remember when virtually no one asked who you were or why you there, provided you paid in cash. Now technology advances intrude on the right to privacy. Tech innovations have outpaced privacy protections.
As a result, our digital footprint can be tracked by government and corporations in ways that were unthinkable two decades ago.
Our digital mark is revealing ever more data about aspects of our lives. Our smart phone provider may collect information about our location, phone calls, online searches, and purchases. New contraptions including smart watches, voice and facial recognition, and surveillance systems like baby cams and Ring are collecting data that can lead to loss of privacy, security, and civil liberties. Oh, and it includes your health info. If one activates a door bell connected to the internet, does the homeowner and cops know who you are?
Americans should be concerned. We should not have to choose between new technologies and protecting our inalienable rights. Thomas Jefferson told us that in 1776.
Don Mathisen is a journalist living in Oneonta.