McNealy: We've already lost privacy

McNealy: We've already lost privacy

The Transportation Security Administration could guarantee air safety by collecting passenger information from public and private databases, industry executives said at a Washington forum sponsored this week by the Council for Excellence in Government.

'It's not a technology problem, it's a problem of political will, what we are willing to give up' in exchange for greater security, said Steve Perkins, senior vice president for public-sector business at Oracle Corp.

Oracle formed the Liberty Alliance with Electronic Data Systems Corp., PricewaterhouseCoopers Inc. of New York and Sun Microsystems Inc. to sell the database-mining idea to the government.

'Our goal is to push the bounds of the technology,' Perkins said. 'I don't see a role for the alliance on the policy side.' The alliance has proposed authenticating passengers through public databases, cross-referenced against federal watch lists. Trusted passengers would be issued biometric smart cards for faster processing at airport checkpoints.

Sun chief executive officer Scott McNealy downplayed the risks of such a system, calling anonymity 'a very dangerous weapon. You're not losing privacy that you haven't already lost anyway.'

Government officials, however, said privacy and security policies require industry participation.

'The whole concept of shared databases being at risk is something government can't deal with effectively without private-sector partners that control some of the most extensive databases,' said Mary Mitchell, the General Services Administration's program executive for e-government policy.

Chris Israel, deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for technology policy, said risks to privacy grow as personal data is gathered and consolidated for homeland security.

'The paradigm is going to have to be completely changed,' Israel said. Biometrics technology is both an answer and a threat to privacy, and government policy will have to be retooled to handle the new risks, he said. 'We're going to be confounded by it going forward.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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