Strategy sets off privacy alerts

A number of initiatives in the homeland security strategy set off alarms among privacy advocates, who worry that data collection and automated analysis such as data mining will enable the government to intrude into private lives.

The strategy's support for standardized driver's licenses was hit hard by the American Civil Liberties Union. "This plan proposes a national ID -- an internal passport -- pure and simple," said Katie Corrigan, a legislative counsel on privacy rights for the ACLU.

But Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy Information Center said the strategy's position on standard driver's licenses seems to indicate that "the White House has backed off from the proposal for national ID cards."

Unlike earlier plans for standardized driver's licenses, the president's plan does not call for setting up interconnected databases of information on license holders. Instead the strategy says the federal government "can assist the states in crafting solutions to curtail the future abuse of driver's licenses by terrorist organizations." Standards for content, formats and license acquisition procedures would make it harder for terrorists to get driver's licenses, the strategy suggests.

"On balance, it may not be so bad," Rotenberg said.

Most of the Sept. 11 terrorists had valid U.S. driver's licenses -- some held multiple licenses -- prompting a campaign for tougher driver's license standards, biometric identification features and interconnected driver's license databases. Opponents worry that such steps could lead to tracking of individuals as they use their driver's licenses for identification purposes to cash checks, check into hotels or make purchases.

Some privacy advocates are pleased by the president's restraint on changing laws to limit access to public information on physical and cyber infrastructure.

The strategy says that homeland security officials will need quick access to information about the critical infrastructure, much of which is owned by private companies. To get the information, the government may have to limit the public's access to it, the strategy says.

But it discusses "narrowly limiting public disclosure" and calls for the attorney general to convene a panel of federal and state officials to develop legislation or guidance on public disclosure.

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