U.S. president George W. Bush plans to convene a panel to develop guidelines for subjecting thousands of corporate IT employees to background investigations.

The panel, described in the National Strategy for Homeland Security report, would examine whether current employer liability statutes and privacy concerns would hinder “necessary background checks for personnel with access to critical infrastructure facilities or systems.”

That means employees in industries that include banking, chemicals, energy, transportation, telecommunications, shipping and public health would be subject to background investigations as a condition of employment.

“Personnel with privileged access to critical infrastructure, particularly [IT-based] control systems, may serve as terrorist surrogates by providing information on vulnerabilities, operating characteristics and protective measures,” the Bush report states.

Some IT professionals see the plan as both an infringement on civil liberties and a recipe for destroying innovation and economic prosperity.

Jonathan Blitt, president of ITT Industries Inc.’s Network Systems & Services division in New York, said expanding background investigations would do more harm than good.

“The people you most want on your side are the people that may seem least desirable to a panel of so-called experts,” Blitt said, referring to the community of programmers and ethical hackers who often live on what he referred to as the “fringe” of society.

Others, such as Eric Johansen, a systems analyst at ReliaStar Life Insurance Co. in Minneapolis, see no problem with background investigations.

“A position like systems analyst [or] network administrator requires access to extremely sensitive data and control of many business-critical tasks. It would be ridiculous not to screen employees,” Johansen said

– ComputerWorld (US)