DHS to boost use of secure data-sharing net

The Homeland Security Department, facing criticism that it’s in danger of dropping the ball on data sharing, is pushing to strengthen the deployment of the Homeland Security Information Network.

The department recently established an HSIN advisory committee to provide independent advice from representatives of state, local and tribal governments, as well as from the private sector, about what users specifically need from HSIN, which could go a long way toward answering complaints about the network.

Despite some success with HSIN, particularly for data sharing during the Gulf Coast hurricanes in 2005, people in those communities have generally been disappointed with HSIN.

There were high expectations when the initiative was first proposed several years ago. The network was seen as a vital means for quickly sharing information about security threats among all levels of government.

But privacy concerns and inadequate planning and resources have stymied efforts to make the HSIN a viable data-sharing resource the DHS’ assistant inspector general, Frank Deffer, told a congressional panel in September.

Among the problems, he said, was the fact that state and local law enforcement users are not committed to using HSIN, preferring other systems.

DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, speaking at the recent International Association of Chiefs of Police annual conference in Boston, reiterated the need for real-time data sharing and said his department was aiming even higher.

“We are going to build upon some of our early initial efforts.... by creating a national network of intelligence fusion centers to support state and local decision-makers, chiefs of police, and state and local intelligence officials,” he said.

A part of that will entail use of a new homeland secure data network, he said.

In his testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee, Charlie Allen, DHS’ chief intelligence officer, also described plans for providing the HSIN, which was initially designed as an unclassified network, with a classified component.

In the future, he said, HSIN would be made up of two parts: HSIN-Intelligence, which will handle unclassified information, and HSIN-Secret for the classified data.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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