The head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Thursday downplayed privacy concerns raised by the government’s efforts to create standardized, data-chipped drivers licenses across the country.
The same technology that makes information on identification cards more reliable can also protect privacy, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff said during a speech to the Northern Virginia Technology Council. “It’s my contention that properly used technology … actually protects privacy,” he said. “We should not allow folks to be captivated by the argument that every time we do something with a computer, it invades privacy.”
Chertoff was referring to privacy concerns surrounding the Real ID Act, a law passed by the U.S. Congress in 2005 that would require states to create machine-readable ID cards containing the name of the holder, the data of birth, a digital photograph and other information.
Privacy groups, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), have said that the DHS hasn’t come up with rules on how the information on the cards should be protected. DHS has made only “vague” plans for card security and for restricting which state motor vehicle agency employees would have access to the information, EPIC says.
“On security and privacy standards for the card, state motor vehicle facilities, and the personal data and documents collected in state motor vehicle databases, DHS shows little interest,” EPIC says on its Web site.
But Chertoff said those raising privacy concerns about the use of IT in the U.S. government’s domestic security efforts create a false tension between security and privacy. “This kind of Luddite attitude … is exactly wrong,” he said. “Security and privacy are very much the same type of value. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive, they’re mutually reinforced.”
Chertoff also talked about how DHS is using IT. Technology plays a part in nearly all the agency’s efforts, including machines that read fingerprints at border crossings, databases that link law enforcement investigations and scanning technologies for containers coming into the U.S.
Among the agency’s top priorities are helping states and cities create interoperable emergency communications systems, collecting more biometric data at borders and helping private organizations protect their cybersecurity, he said.
DHS will continue to look to private organizations to help with issues such as cybersecurity, Chertoff said. Private organizations control most of the Internet in the U.S., and vendors often have the best ideas for new technologies, he said. “The federal government is not going to invent the best firewall,” he added.
In addition, DHS continues to integrate its IT systems after the agency was created from pieces of 22 other agencies in January 2003, Chertoff said. The agency is still working on consolidating 17 major data centers into two and seven WANs into one, he said. Work is nearly complete on a common e-mail system, he said.
Chertoff announced that he’s giving more authority to DHS Chief Information Officer Scott Charbo. The DHS CIO will now approve all DHS departments IT budgets, and he will review the performance of all department CIOs, Chertoff said. Any IT projects costing more than US$2.5 million will need the approval of the CIO, giving the CIO more direct authority, he said.