Report critical of administration’s info-sharing efforts

Policies need to be established to ensure officials feel that they can safely share information without negative repercussions on their careers, report says.

An influential non-profit foundation on Thursday issued a report criticizing the Bush administration's failure to effectively encourage its various departments and state and local law enforcement authorities to share anti-terrorism information.

The report praised President Bush and Congress for understanding the need to better share critical information to prevent terrorism, but pressed the administration to reinvigorate efforts to break obstacles preventing law enforcers and intelligence authorities from collaborating effectively.

"Efforts to enhance information sharing have been bogged down by gaps in leadership, policy articulation, turf wars and struggles over competing -- and frequently incompatible -- technologies," wrote the Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age. The chairs of the group are foundation President Zoe Baird and former Netscape Communications CEO Jim Barksdale, who is a partner with the Barksdale Group.

The taskforce is composed of technologists, former intelligence officials, members of think tanks and civil libertarians.

The 93-page report details suggestions on how data kept by intelligence and law enforcement agencies could be stored, labeled, managed, shared and audited to make information sharing between departments more efficient. It also suggests ways to make officials more accountable.

It argues that a clearer management approach would be to promote trust between various department officials. It also says policies need to be established to ensure officials feel that they can safely share the information without negative repercussions on their careers.

One of its big ideas is the idea of creating an "authorized use" standard to determine who can access lawfully-collected information. Civil libertarians are concerned that the government is amassing huge databases on people and mining the information without appropriate oversight.

The authorized use standard would require government officials to clearly outline a well-defined mission and would subject the officials to audits. These procedures would be coded into software, which the officials would use to manage their investigations and information-sharing activities. Human facilitators would arbitrate disputes between department officials that arise over refusals to share sensitive information.

"We felt that it was important to define another standard for the sharing of legally collected information because we felt that the standards that were being applied were not focused on the right basis for making a determination," Baird said an event to release the report.

"Simply because the information was collected inside the U.S. or outside the U.S., simply because it was information that was collected about a U.S. person, or about a non-U.S. person caused there to be a great deal of debate about where you could share it -- as opposed to being around whether it should be shared because it was extremely useful information," she added.

The goal is to strike a balance between providing the executive branch with a blank check to conduct anti-terrorism investigations and loosening restrictions that might impede officials' willingness to share information, she said.