Homeland Security seeks to boost citizen role in war on terror

Department announces technology initiatives aimed at increasing citizen involvement.

A Homeland Security Department official on Thursday announced two initiatives aimed at incorporating more citizens into the war on terrorism.

First of all, the department started working with disabled veterans. "By working with disabled veterans, their fidelity to the nation is rewarded and they can continue to work for the security of the country," Daniel Sutherland of the department's Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, said at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion.

To accommodate the needs of those veterans, Homeland Security partnered with the Defense Department for assistive technology, such as screen readers for the blind and different controls to replace computer mouses for people with motor disabilities. The effort is "just one of a dozen things we have done to lay the foundation for this infrastructure," Sutherland said.

Sutherland's office also is developing a "civil liberties university" to provide online courses through the department's Web site. The 20-minute sessions will cover a wide range of issues, including racial profiling. "The training focus has been criticized as a Sept. 10 form of thinking," he said in a reference to the day before the 2001 terrorist attacks, "but we are not interested in sensitivity training. ... [Minorities] are more likely to work with us if they understand."

In the future, Sutherland would like the department to expand the "civil liberties 101" courses to include information for people with disabilities.

Panelist Timothy Edgar, the legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the immediate aftermath of the 2001 attacks. "Immigrants were inappropriately labeled, and anyone was charged," Edgar said, adding that new enforcement tactics "went way too far."

He also said the proposed Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System II for airlines is extreme because it "rates you as an airline customer." Edgar noted that the first rendition of such a system "didn't work ... so it seems silly to do it again."