Chertoff: Private sector can help with with traveler screening

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff suggested Thursday that the private IT sector could help develop and operate traveler screening databases for the federal government.

In his most detailed speech to date on IT issues within the department, Chertoff floated the idea of the federal government utilizing more private-sector databases containing personal data.

While being 'very careful about how I say this,' Chertoff said 'we do need a certain amount of limited information for screening, some of that's available in the private sector,'

That data might need to remain in the private sector, because 'we don't want the government to accumulate a lot of data,' Chertoff said. What the government wants is 'a signal or a flag that there is, for example, with respect to a traveler, a reason to be concerned ' without actually having to dive into the underlying data and get access to things that I think people might be reluctant to have their government see,' Chertoff said in remarks to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The result would be a screening system that would protective of privacy, he added.

'So I actually think the private sector can help us construct an architecture that will be ' pro-privacy and privacy protective,' Chertoff said.

Chertoff, speaking on the eve of his first European trip, addressed most of his speech to the possibility of creating a secure, protected IT environment for pre-screened travelers and cargo, while focusing most scrutiny on movement of people and goods outside the secure environment.

'We need to have a world that is banded with security envelopes, meaning secure environments through which people and cargo can move rapidly, efficiently and safely without sacrificing security,' Chertoff said.

Creating the security envelopes will require cooperation from Europe in developing joint screening approaches, documentation and identification card requirements.

'We're going to need to have better information about trusted travelers if we are truly going to move to this security envelope where people can move freely but with the sense ' that we can trust them,' he said. 'That means we need to get information, not only from within this country but from abroad, about people who are traveling. And that runs into some important cultural and legal challenges.'

New technology will be critical, Chertoff said, and it will need to be compatible and interoperable with Europe and Asia.

'It doesn't make a lot of sense, for example, to have radio-frequency chips that use different kinds of modalities in the United States and Europe and in Asia, because we're simply going to make it hard for us to interconnect,' he said.

Chertoff said he is looking to DHS' Science and Technology directorate, universities, the private sector and national laboratories to help develop new technology.

'In the course of my three months on the job, I've made it a point to meet with scientists and technology people'private and public'to get a sense of what is out there,' Chertoff said.

He is hoping the private sector can help develop biometric 'trusted traveler' identification cards to speed movement within airports.

'As we talk about biometric types of identification which may become available on a voluntary basis, the private sector can create a marketplace for this,' Chertoff said.

But Chertoff also sees an expansion of government powers related to the private sector. Responding to a question, the secretary said he supports Bush administration plans to expand the Patriot Act to allow the subpoena of business records without a judge's approval.

'Getting information quickly is really important, and I obviously was around when the Patriot Act was passed. I think it has been a tremendous positive, value-added element of the war against terror,' Chertoff said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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