• United States
Senior Editor

Report: Domestic security tech efforts lagging

Dec 02, 20035 mins

The U.S. is not taking advantage of its technology expertise to fight terrorism because U.S. government agencies are still reluctant to share terrorism-related information with each other, two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new report authored by leading IT and national security experts.

WASHINGTON – The U.S. is not taking advantage of its technology expertise to fight terrorism because U.S. government agencies are still reluctant to share terrorism-related information with each other, two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to a new report authored by leading IT and national security experts.

The Markle Foundation report, “Creating a Trusted Information Network for Homeland Security,” released Tuesday, recommends that President Bush set up a decentralized terrorism analysis network that would encourage government agencies to share information with each other and with local law enforcement agencies.The Markle Foundation’s recommended System-wide Homeland Analysis and Resource Exchange (SHARE) Network could effectively combat terrorism while protecting privacy and other civil liberties, said members of the foundation’s Task Force on National Security in the Information Age during a press conference in Washington, D.C.

President Bush needs to make information-sharing across agencies a priority, and the SHARE Network would be the first step toward ensuring that the “Cold War mentality” of agencies guarding their information is broken down, said Michael Vatis, executive director of the task force.

The U.S. needs to have a debate about how government collects and shares information, added Zoë Baird, president of the Markle Foundation. U.S. residents are wary of government data collection and data-mining projects, such as the Department of Defense’s Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) project, because there’s no government-wide standard, based on public input, on what information can be collected on residents and how it can be shared, she said.

“Not a lot of thought has been put into collecting the information we need and how to link it,” Baird said. “If we don’t have this debate… it could cripple our use of technology to fight terrorism.”

The report, a follow-up to an October 2002 Markle Foundation report, calls for the U.S. government to give greater priority to sharing and analyzing information. While the earlier report identified the ability to share information as the most urgent task facing the government’s domestic security operations, the new report focuses on executing that.

“Our government should effectively utilize the valuable information that is held in private hands, but only within a system of rules and guidelines designed to protect our civil liberties,” the report says. “Our nation can never hope to harden all potential targets against terrorist attack. Therefore, we must rely on information to try to detect, prevent, and respond to attacks.”

U.S. agencies are reluctant to share information with each other because of a continuing culture of ownership of information, and because of fears that residents’ privacy would be compromised by sharing information, Baird said.

Concerns over TIA and the Transportation Security Administration’s proposed next-generation Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS II) happened because the public wasn’t clear on what information would be collected and how it would be used, Baird said.

“It is the judgment of this task force that we should not block these programs,” Baird said. “(But) public trust in a network that uses information about people in the U.S. can only be achieved if government-side guidelines for information sharing and privacy protection are established after open public debate.”

The SHARE Network, as envisioned by the Markle Foundation, would be a combination of technology and policies that would encourage information-sharing among agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security, FBI and local law enforcement agencies.

SHARE, using technology currently available, could include published directories of information related to terrorism, listings of what agencies have relevant information and rules determining who could access that information. Currently available technology could allow for the anonymity of personally identifiable information when appropriate so that information could be shared across agencies while protecting privacy, task force members said.

SHARE would be a decentralized, peer-to-peer-like network that would encourage employees of government agencies to share information with state and local governments as well as other federal agencies. Access control and strong encryption would protect privacy of individuals being investigated, task force members said.

Such a network could break down the “dichotomy” between security and civil liberties, because protection of civil liberties would be built in, said task force participant James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Unlike some uses envisioned for the Terrorism Information Project at the Defense Department, the SHARE Network would focus on analyzing currently available data, not creating terrorism scenarios, said Gilman Louie, president and CEO of In-Q-Tel, a private independent technology investment group funded by the CIA.

“We’re not talking about a crystal ball that you pop a bunch of information into and out pops your terrorist,” Louie said.

The Markle task force includes national security experts who served in the Carter, Reagan, first Bush and Clinton administrations, in addition to several technology experts. Among the members of the task force are Esther Dyson, chairwoman of EDventure Holdings, retired general and Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, Craig Mundie, chief technical officer of advanced strategies and policy at Microsoft, and G. Wayne Clough, president of the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The Department of Homeland Security didn’t have an immediate comment on the task force recommendations.