Tech aimed at homeland security

A Washington, D.C., think tank is calling for increased use of information technology — including smart identification cards and the linking of databases — to improve homeland security. It also advocates the creation of a chief information officer responsible for reviewing homeland security technology applications.

The Progressive Policy Institute (www.ppionline.org), a group aligned with the Democratic Leadership Council, on Jan. 18 unveiled two papers outlining ways technology could be used to help bolster terrorism detection and prevention at all levels of government.

Although most of the technologies addressed in the papers are not new and some are being proposed in bills in Congress, the authors said more focus should be placed on technology to deter future terrorist acts.

"We're not trying to address terrorism in a vacuum," said Robert Atkinson, the group's vice president and co-author of one of the papers. "We're working to modernize all of our systems."

In addition to smart ID cards and visas, the institute also is pushing for:

* The acceleration of integrated justice networks among states.

* Better integration of communications systems among first responders at the state and local levels.

* A coordinated surveillance, containment and response system when biological or chemical attacks occur.

* Enhanced nonemergency public referral and information lines.

Thirty-eight states are developing integrated justice networks, but deployment has been slow because sharing data with one another involves a cultural change for justice agencies, said John Cohen, another co-author.

The group also advocates smart ID cards — cards implanted with a computer chip as well as unique biometric data — to reduce fraud. With such data on a card and linked to law enforcement databases, the group said it would be extremely difficult for people to obtain multiple driver's licenses.

The authors are not looking to create a national ID card, which they distinguished as one issued by the federal government, but said that computer chips could be placed in existing driver's licenses or other ID cards. They said the federal government should standardize some security features, such as a hologram, to indicate that a state-issued card is valid.

Atkinson said a smart card could have significant economic returns because the computer chips could perform a variety of functions, ranging from signing documents online to making cash transactions to serving as a library card.

Privacy would not be compromised, he said, adding that civil libertarians who attack such technologies are doing a "disservice." They are "preying upon fears by using overblown rhetoric," he said. However, the authors said that government misuse of information has occurred before and that it's important for civic groups to raise legitimate concerns when there are clear violations.

The authors call for "speedy deployment" of the technologies and for planning to come from the federal government. However, Atkinson said there's been no real leadership there and the Bush administration should be encouraged to create a CIO position just for homeland security technology applications.

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