Clashing over cards

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 will require all federal employees and contractors who work in federal buildings to carry biometric smart cards, a mandate that has privacy advocates locking horns with proponents of increased building and systems security.

Those tensions were on display at a Jan. 19 public meeting in Washington, D.C., where federal officials, public-interest group leaders and technology executives fielded questions from federal union leaders and information technology vendors about HSPD-12.

Privacy advocates criticized the directive for requiring technical standards for the identity cards to be completed before Office of Management and Budget officials have had time to write the policies that will govern their use.

"The policy discussions should have been held at the same time or before the discussion of technical standards," said Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a public-interest group.

But National Institute of Standards and Technology officials, who are developing a governmentwide technical standard for the cards, said the directive's deadlines required them to proceed before policy guidelines could be completed. The governmentwide technical standard must be finished by Feb. 27, and agency officials must begin issuing personal identification cards based on the new technical standard by October.

Addressing those deadline concerns, Karen Evans, administrator for e-government and IT at OMB, offered reassurance. "We will be here to help you make those deadlines," she said.

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