Tech firms ally to push homeland security solutions

Technology companies and government need to enhance collaboration as they seek the most effective way to secure the nation's airports and other transportation methods and facilities, industry leaders said Monday.

EDS, Oracle, PwC Consulting and Sun Microsystems recently formed an alliance to help the Transportation Security Administration and other federal agencies identify technologies for boosting transportation security. Last month, the group began offering a package that combines background on individuals with biometrics technology to enable a frequent-traveler program. The package also included a "secure employee" registration and authentication program designed to identify and assess security risks via existing employee information.

But "we can't even begin to define the limits of what has to be done here," EDS CEO Dick Brown said during a Council for Excellence in Government luncheon in Washington. "We're as vulnerable today to an electronic Pearl Harbor as we were on Sept. 11."

Brown suggested that White House Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge "take a good, hard look" at the nation's "most obvious" vulnerabilities and determine the most detrimental impact that could occur by exploiting those vulnerabilities. Although the tech community has been looking to aid government in installing new technologies to help detect potential terrorists, systems are still faulty, panelists said.

"This is a combination of process and technology," said Scott Hartz, global managing partner for PwC, adding that no one company or agency can succeed on its own.

Oracle executive Steve Perkins said the technological solutions for many of the nation's security challenges exist, but the TSA and other agencies need to be educated on how those solutions can be most effective. Despite some privacy groups' concerns with ideas such as a centralized database, or biometric ID cards, "we're going to have to push that line back and forth" between security and privacy, Perkins said.

"It's really a problem of political will and a will of citizens. What do we want to trade to be secure?" Perkins asked. "The question is, to secure the nation, where do we draw that line?"

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy echoed those sentiments, saying that as more technology is used in homeland security, a "huge set of tradeoffs" is created. People want to be more secure, yet as more ideas are floated on how technology can affirm identities and track people's whereabouts, many say their privacy needs more protection and should not be sacrificed in the name of security.

But "you're not losing privacy that you haven't lost anyhow" by using new technologies, McNealy said. "Anonymity breeds irresponsibility," he said, adding that anonymity is a "very dangerous weapon."

McNealy cited Sun's work with the Liberty Alliance, the consortium of technology companies spearheaded by Sun that was created to develop e-commerce standards. He said the group's work on data-sharing standards is an example of how organizations and governments can do more to use technology for homeland security.

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