Sharing information still a pipe dream?

Experts agreed that information sharing across government still calls for process, not necessarily technology, improvements. But some wonder whether government leaders have weighed down that process with too many new rules, slowing that information flow.

"We're setting up a whole new system of rules, processes and protocols," said John Cohen, co-director of the Progressive Policy Institute's Homeland Security Task Force and president and CEO of PSComm LLC, a Rockville, Md., company that helps local law enforcement agencies implement advanced technology.

State and local law enforcers may not be sharing data readily, he said, "not because they do not want to share the information, but because they don't understand what rules they're playing under."

He said state and local public safety agencies have been termed "first responders," without having a clear page of instructions on what or how to respond in chance encounters with potential or suspected terrorists. "We have to understand what it is we're trying to improve," Cohen said.

But at a panel, sponsored by Adobe Systems Inc. today at FOSE in Washington about the new challenge of government information sharing, most agreed there's been progress, but perhaps not yet enough to effectively safeguard the homeland.

"Technology has always been an enabler, but the policy decisions have not been made to share information," said Mark Holman, former deputy assistant to the president for homeland security. "But that process is under way, and the technology will enable us to continue to move forward."

And those process challenges become even thornier as unanswered questions about privacy persist, said Chris Wolf, a partner and chairman of Computer Security Practice Group in the Washington office of law firm Proskauer Rose LLP.

"These are difficult issues that were not dealt so well with in the past. In some ways, we're doing a very new thing," said James Lewis, senior fellow and director of technology policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "It's not an insurmountable problem, but it will take time and planning to overcome."

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