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Democrat Group Backs 'Smart IDs'

Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00 AM

Progressive Policy Institute released two reports, "Using Technology to Detect and Prevent Terrorism" and "The State and Local Role in Homeland Defense." Both call for using modern computer systems and other technologies.

Robert Atkinson, the institute's vice president and co-author of the "Using Technology" report, said incomplete identification systems and database use thwarted many opportunities police agencies had to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.

"If we had had advanced IT tools in place ... it is almost certain that some of the terrorists would have been detained, and possibly some of the plots would have been foiled," Atkinson said in prepared remarks. "We need a coordinated plan that utilizes technology to modernize our law enforcement, security and identification systems."

Shane Ham, a senior PPI analyst and Atkinson's co-author, said the FBI's National Crime Information Center database was a step in the right direction for information sharing, but its focus on serious crimes needs to be broadened to help police identify possible terrorists. Police on the street should receive handheld computers for wireless access to the improved databases, he said.

Apart from better data, the Atkinson-Ham report recommends the government adopt technology applications that include:

Other smart ID proposals put forward this month don't go far enough, Ham said, since including biometric data such as fingerprints would help stop criminals from obtaining multiple driver's licenses. The federal government should also consider funding programs to widen the use of smart IDs to other identity-sensitive areas, he said, and any federal support for state programs must be based on performance metrics. "If we invest in technology the right way, we will protect ourselves not only from rare but devastating terrorist attacks, but also from everyday problems such as street crime, disease and natural disasters," Ham said.

Atkinson said government adoption of smart IDs also could bring returns on the investment in other areas. Digital signatures, where people could conduct virtually every kind of financial transaction online, would become much easier with the cards, he said. Private companies could also build off such a widespread identity standard, he said.

The benefits for high-tech industries would be far more immediate, said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of Electronic Privacy Information Center. The PPI plan would amount to a "multibillion-dollar giveaway" to computer and software companies, he said, with little benefit for homeland security.

"This is an organization which has rightfully trumpeted the booming New Economy, but is now taking us on to 'Brave New World,'" Rotenberg told United Press International.

"Technology can play a role in preventing a recurrence of an event like Sept. 11. In the areas of airport security and hardening cockpit doors, steps taken there will do far more to protect public safety than to build a surveillance infrastructure."

To think that a smart ID card full of information could be compartmentalized to keep some information from certain government agencies is nonsense, Rotenberg said. The institute's plan lacks oversight controls and other safeguards, he said.

The Privacy Act of 1974 was enacted specifically to prevent excessive data-sharing among federal agencies, he said, and PPI's plan would quickly run afoul of the law.

"Those laws have been upheld as recently as the year 2000 by the Supreme Court," Rotenberg said. "The PPI is saying, in effect, let's throw technology at this, and if privacy laws stand in the way, let's push them aside."

Copyright 2002 by United Press International.

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Progressive Policy Institute released two reports, Using Technology to Detect and Prevent Terrorism and The State and Local Role in Homeland Defense. Both call for using modern computer systems and other technologies. Robert Atkinson, the institute's vice president...
Friday, 18 January 2002 12:00 AM
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