Group: Data sharing still falls short

The sharing of national security information is still not enough to protect the country, and related governmentwide policies that safeguard civil liberties are still needed, a group of former senior government officials, information technology industry executives and privacy advocates said today. The group made recommendations on how the Obama administration and Congress should use policy and IT to deal with those problems.

The Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age said in a report that immediate action is needed, and President Barack Obama and Congress need to reaffirm their commitment to information sharing as a top priority. The group said the sense of urgency about information sharing has lessened since the terrorist attacks of September 2001.

The task force was formed in 2002, and its previous recommendations have served as a basis for laws and policies designed to improve information sharing.

“Without information sharing, policy-makers can’t make decisions because the decisions are made before the information ever gets to them,” said Zoë Baird, co-chairwoman of the task force, during a press conference held to announce the findings.

The group also recommended that Obama and Congress:

  • Make government information discoverable and accessible by increasing the use of commercially available technology.
  • Enhance security and privacy protections.
  • Employ metrics and incentives to measure information sharing.
  • Help users drive information sharing by forming communities of interest.

The group said Obama should transfer the Program Manager for the Information Sharing Environment, now under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to the Executive Office of the President to ensure that it has the necessary authorities. The PM-ISE was established in 2005 and coordinates the federal government’s Information Sharing Environment.

The task force also recommended that Obama order an initial 60-day review of the ISE’s policy, privacy guidelines and processes, and conduct similar annual reviews. The reviews should focus on the overlap between law enforcement and domestic intelligence and apply best practices more broadly to areas such as cybersecurity and energy security, the group said.

The task force also recommended that Obama require national security agencies to use IT to make their data more discoverable by tagging it when it is collected and contributing key categories of information to data indices. The group suggested having an authorized use standard so different details of the same information would be made available to different people, depending on their authorization.

In addition, the group recommended that the administration link the funding of programs to how well national security agencies makes information discoverable.

The task force also suggested conducting real-time audits of how users share information. Furthermore, the administration should create new governmentwide policies on privacy and civil liberties to provide consistency, and the president and Congress should move quickly to nominate and confirm members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the group said.

“Security and liberty are not a zero-sum game,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s Intelligence and Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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