Countries obligated to share data, U.S. official says

A senior Homeland Security official said Wednesday that countries have an obligation to share information with each other on potentially dangerous travelers. He estimated that a global identity management system could be operational by the end of the decade.

"We have an ethical responsibility to make the vision of a global security envelope possible sooner rather than later," Robert Mocny, acting director of the department's US-VISIT program, said in a speech at an international biometrics and ethics conference. US-VISIT screens foreigners for criminal or terrorist connections using their biographical and biometric data.

Mocny challenged U.S. and foreign officials to move beyond the question of whether governments should be sharing the personal data of travelers. He said governments have an ethical obligation to do so, especially for suspected or identified criminals and terrorists.

He acknowledged, however, that "gray areas" need to be resolved, particularly when it comes to determining who is a terrorist and when a criminal offense in one country is not considered one elsewhere.

But Mocny said governments should work together to build "a global infrastructure" of technology and systems to share information while ensuring that privacy protections and ethical practices are in place. He said "it makes no sense" to build "separate and disparate systems that don't talk to each other."

He cited as precedent the international financial system, in which banks regularly share the financial and personal information of customers. He predicted that a global identity management system that incorporates privacy and ethical standards is possible "within this decade."

He said, for example, that Australia, the European Union, Japan and the United Kingdom already are moving to deploy ID management systems for travelers. "We're on the threshold of a new era for global border security," he declared.

US-VISIT has led to more than 1,600 people being denied entry to the United States, Mocny said. Since January 2004, information on more than 70 million people has been entered into the program's database.

Mocny said the database is now starting to be accessed by state and local law enforcement to identify immigration violators in their jurisdictions. He said test programs are in place in Boston and Dallas. In December, the Office of Personnel Management will begin accessing the database to screen job applicants, Mocny added.

He said his goal is to make the US-VISIT database accessible to state and local law enforcers across the country by the end of 2008.

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