Federal officials say data sharing efforts are improving

Homeland Security has created 38 "fusion centers" to blend law enforcement and intelligence information.

The federal government has made tremendous progress in sharing information and embracing new technologies while remaining cognizant of privacy concerns and public accountability, officials said Wednesday at a conference on homeland security.

Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Michael Jackson said at the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association conference that the government is engaged in various initiatives to improve security -- like greater investment in Secure Flight and the rollout of the Registered Traveler program.

As defined by the Transportation Security Administration, Secure Flight involves the submission of passenger reservation information by airlines to TSA for comparing names against criminal and terrorist watch lists. Registered Traveler is designed to provide faster airport security screening to travelers who undergo background checks in advance.

More attention also has been placed on protecting infrastructure, screening cargo, engaging in the mining of information from government and commercial databases, and looking to control the border with technology tools, Jackson said.

Many of the projects were started or strengthened in the last few years, as the Bush administration has made improved security a national priority.

Jackson pointed to a "multiplicity of identity-management investments" his department is making. He stressed that the government is "not Big Brother" and respects the Constitution and privacy concerns. Still, it is important to understand who is coming into this country in an "analytic and disciplined way," he said.

Homeland Security Chief Intelligence Officer Charles Allen said the government has a responsibility to share information, which is the main reason the department exists.

Allen said he is working on information-sharing outreach to state and local governments. "We have made progress," but we need to move faster, he said.

While Allen argued that protecting privacy and civil liberties for Americans is key to the department's success, privacy and civil liberties groups continue to raise concerns about government use of technology that they claim infringes privacy rights.

A late-morning panel discussion outlined new so-called "fusion centers," and multiple speakers commented on what the centers can offer. In 2006, authorities created 38 such centers, which, according to DHS, "blend relevant law enforcement and intelligence information analysis and coordinate security measures in order to reduce threats in local communities."

Homeland Security has provided hundreds of millions of dollars to support the centers.

The department said in 2006 that it would have tailored "multidisciplinary teams of intelligence and operational professionals in major fusion centers nationwide by the end of fiscal year 2008."