DHS to issue data warehouse RFP

The Homeland Security Department expects to issue a solicitation shortly to test an idea for a Global Trade Exchange privately managed data warehouse that would consolidate information on worldwide cargo movements, Secretary Michael Chertoff said.

The idea has been in development by Customs and Border Protection for two years. However, an industry group recently suggested that the warehouse is a bad idea and would hurt U.S. commerce and security if the data is not adequately protected.

DHS is moving forward on the plan. In a Nov. 15 speech, Chertoff indicated that the department expects to seek solicitations within weeks for proposals to test the concept with voluntary participation.

"We're going to make sure that we address concerns about security and operational demands by proceeding forward in concrete steps," Chertoff said.

The warehouse, which is part of DHS' Secure Freight Initiative, would collect a wide range of nontraditional information on cargo movements that Chertoff said would be made available for analysis. The goal is culling more information for better analysis, leading to more-precise targeting and less disruption of trade, he said.

The warehouse would collect current information in addition to data to be solicited under the department's Secure Filing Initiative, also known as 10, for which a notice of proposed rulemaking is expected in several weeks, Chertoff said.

"The Global Trade Exchange is not about remaking the industry because you also do the same thing we're trying to do," Chertoff said. "You try to use information technology to make your process better and more accurate."

But the Joint Industry Group, a trade organization representing importers, exporters, law firms and other commercial entities involved in international trade, recently expressed serious reservations about the Global Trade Exchange's possible impact on commerce and security.

Calling it a highly complicated concept, the industry group said the exchange would manage a vast amount of information that would be difficult to protect and vulnerable to leaks. Sharing confidential business data with foreign governments in the exchange also would be problematic, because it is not clear how the data would be secured and protected against distribution to competitors, the group wrote in a letter to Chertoff available on its Web site.

Finally, the warehouse may have implications for national security, the group said. "By trusting a large amount of data to the care of the private sector and sharing it with foreign governments, a number of uncontrollable elements will be introduced to the system. A breach of any of these levels could carry significant consequences for the security of our border," the letter states.

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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