Official: Security won't hurt privacy

Devising better ways to accurately identify individuals is a key part of the Bush administration's homeland security strategy, but a senior Bush aide promised July 23 that high-tech identification systems won't be allowed to undercut civil liberties.

Steve Cooper told a gathering of congressional staffers and technology company representatives that the Bush administration does not favor any use of technology that undermines personal privacy or the openness of American society.

Still, he said, the administration embraces biometric identification technologies to improve security at the nation's borders, in air travel, in federal buildings and elsewhere. Cooper is chief information officer in the Office of Homeland Security.

Plans for extensive use of biometric identification, data mining, among other technologies, set off alarms last week when they were spelled out in President Bush's National Homeland Security Strategy.

The American Civil Liberties Union, for example, denounced Bush's call for the federal government to help the states develop uniform driver's licenses and licensing procedures. The ACLU warned, "This plan proposes a national ID -- an internal passport -- pure and simple."

But Cooper said the Bush administration is "not in favor and currently will not support a national ID card."

"We are at war, and the war on terrorism requires a balance" between civil liberties and homeland security, Cooper said. It is "tough" to balance the two, but the administration will not sacrifice civil liberties for homeland security, Cooper vowed. "We will get it right."

However, Cooper made it clear that the administration foresees a nation that relies much more heavily on high-tech identification for purposes that range from gaining access to the country to gaining access to a computer.

The homeland security national strategy calls for creating "smart borders" that rely on biometric identification systems to identify terrorists and criminals. Biometrics should also be used to combat fraud in travel documents, the strategy says.

Fingerprints and facial recognition technology are the favored biometric technologies at present, Cooper said. But retina and iris scans and other technologies are likely to grow more capable and gain wider acceptance, he said. The administration's policy is not to favor any particular biometric technologies, but to develop identification systems that can accommodate multiple technologies.

To be acceptable to the federal government, smart cards, for example, would have to be able to accommodate more than one biometric identifier. That's because different agencies have already adopted favorite technologies, Cooper said.

The State Department has invested heavily in facial recognition as its primary identification system, but the FBI is wedded to fingerprints. And neither is likely to give up its favorite, Cooper said. So a government smart card that is can be used to control building access should be able to accommodate both, he said.

And the card that gets government workers into their buildings should also control their access to computer systems, serve as a trusted traveler card and perform other identification-dependent functions, he said.


"Strategy sets off privacy alerts" [, July 22, 2002]

Ridge: Link driver's license, visa [Government E-Business, March 15, 2002]

"INS urged to expand tracking" [, June 20, 2002]


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