DHS proposes 'global' sharing on terrorist info

Yesterday, a Homeland Security Department senior official presented the outline of an ambitious plan for internationally sharing biometric identification information regarding individuals who pose terrorist threats.

Robert Mocny, acting director of the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, outlined a proposal under which the United States would begin exchanging information about terrorists, first with closely allied governments in Britain, Europe and Japan, and then progressively extending the program to other countries as a means of foiling terrorist attacks.

The Global Envelope proposal apparently opened the door to the exchange of biometric information about persons in this country to other governments and vice versa, in an environment where even officials' pledges to observe privacy principles collide with inconsistent or absent legal protections.

In remarks to the International Conference on Biometrics and Ethics in Washington this afternoon, Mocny repeatedly stressed DHS' commitment to observing privacy principles during the design and implementation of its biometric systems. "We have a responsibility to use this information wisely and responsibly," he said.

Mocny cited the need to avoid duplication of effort by developing technical standards that all national biometric identification systems would use.

He emphasized repeatedly that information sharing is appropriate around the world on biometric methods of identifying terrorists who pose a risk to the public. Noting that his organization already receives information about terrorist threats from around the globe, Mocny said, "We have a responsibility to make a Global Security Envelope [that would coordinate information policies and technical standards.]"

Mocny conceded that each of the 10 privacy laws currently in effect in the United States has an exemption clause for national-security purposes. He added that the department only resorts to its essentially unlimited authority under those clauses when officials decide that there are compelling reasons to do so.

Asked how the federal government would establish information-sharing agreements with some countries that categorize virtually the entire leadership of other countries as terrorists, Mocny noted that there are gray areas in the plan. He said DHS officials would roll out the initial phases of the program with countries that already present themselves, in effect, as technically sophisticated industrial democracies and close allies.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's affiliate publication, Government Computer News.

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