Task Force Says Government Has Not Yet Taken Advantage of America's Technology Expertise to Combat Terrorism | Markle | Advancing America's Future
Task Force Says Government Has Not Yet Taken Advantage of America's Technology Expertise to Combat Terrorism | Markle | Advancing America's Future

Task Force Says Government Has Not Yet Taken Advantage of America’s Technology Expertise to Combat Terrorism

Publication Date: December 2, 2003 | Back to Latest News

WASHINGTON, DC—The Markle Foundation Task Force on National Security in the Information Age today released its second report, concluding that the U.S. government has not yet taken advantage of America’s technology expertise to fight the war on terrorism. In its report, Creating A Trusted Information Network for Homeland Security, the Task Force catalogs current gaps in the nation’s system for analyzing and sharing intelligence. It details the elements of a proposed System-wide Homeland Analysis and Resource Exchange (SHARE) Network that would more effectively combat terrorism while protecting privacy and other civil liberties.

In its first report in October 2002, the Markle Task Force identified the ability to share information as the most urgent task facing government in protecting the homeland. It laid out a plan for a distributed information technology network to share terrorism-related information among federal, state and local government agencies and the private sector so that threats could be identified and prevented. In it second report, the Task Force finds that the government’s progress since September 11, 2001, toward building an adequate network has been slow and is not guided by an overall vision of how information should be shared and analyzed in keeping with adequate guidelines to protect privacy and other civil liberties. Good work is being done in some agencies, but isolated projects cannot reach scale or break through cultural barriers fast enough to prevent another attack.

“Using currently available technology, the government can set up a network that substantially improves our ability to prevent terrorism and protect civil liberties,” said Zoe Baird, president of the Markle Foundation and co-chair with James Barksdale of the Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age. “Public trust in a network that uses information about people in the U.S. can only be achieved if government-wide guidelines for information sharing and privacy protection are established after open public debate.”

The Task Force—whose members include some of the nation’s leading experts on national security who served in the Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton Administrations, as well as leading experts on information technology and civil liberties—calls on the President to:

  • Set the goal of creating the network;
  • issue clear government-wide policy guidelines for the government’s collection and use of domestic information, including private sector information about U.S. persons;
  • clarify the respective roles of DHS, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC), the FBI and other federal agencies involved with collection and analysis of domestic terrorism information.

The Task Force concluded that until the government gives priority to breaking down its institutional barriers to cooperation and presents the public with a cohesive plan for the network, the public will not understand how private sector information is a critical part of the network. Further, government-wide guidelines are needed that clearly define the security interests in research into data mining of private sector information and that provide controls to address the privacy implications of such programs in order to establish public trust in these programs.

In its report, the Task Force notes that it is essential that the government shed its Cold War culture in order to properly address the threat the nation faces from terrorism. During the Cold War, the use of information was dominated by a culture of classification and tight limitations on access, in which information was shared only on a “need to know” basis. However, the events of September 11 have starkly demonstrated the dangers associated with the failure to share information, not only within the federal government, but also between the federal government, on the one hand, and state and local governments and the private sector on the other. The threat today requires unprecedented speed in the way the government collects, shares, and acts on information. To deal with this threat, information needs to be tailored to facilitate decision-making and action at all levels-not only by the President, but also the police officers on the street.

Our Task Force’s fundamental objective was to identify the technological tools and infrastructure, the policies, and the processes necessary to link different levels of government and the private sector, so that important information can be shared among the people who need it as rapidly as possible, within a system of guidelines and technologies designed to protect civil liberties,” said Michael Vatis, executive director of the Task Force. “The government has caused confusion by creating multiple new agencies without clearly defining their respective roles and responsibilities.”

The SHARE network that the Task Force has proposed—which it recommends be overseen by DHS—in the first stage could be built using existing technology. Technology products that are currently available would allow information to be both protected and shared through the use of published directories, listing who has relevant information, and permissioning rules to determine whom can access the information. Currently available technology would also allow for the authentication for subscribers to the directories and the anonymization of personally identifiable information where appropriate in order to share the necessary information while protecting privacy.

As the recent controversies surrounding DARPA’s Terrorist Information Awareness program and an Army contractor’s use of Jet Blue passenger data demonstrate, government access to, and use of, privately held data remains a vexing problem. In its report, the Task Force notes that the government should effectively utilize the valuable information that is held in private hands, but only within a system of rules and guidelines designed to protect civil liberties. Since it is not possible for the nation to harden all potential targets against terrorist attack, the Task Force concludes that the government must rely on information to detect, prevent, and effectively respond to attacks. The travel, hotel, financial, immigration, health, or educational records of a person suspected by the government to be a terrorist may hold information that is vital to unveiling both his intentions and those of other terrorists.

However, the Task Force also concludes that the government should not have routine access to personally identifying information even if it is widely available to the public. If government is to sustain public support for its efforts, it must demonstrate that the information it seeks to acquire is genuinely important to the security mission and is obtained and used in a way that minimizes its impact on privacy and civil liberties. Until government-wide guidelines that achieve this are developed, public concern over potential privacy infringements will continue to hamper the necessary development of new technologies and new operational programs necessary to use that information. Policy guidelines like these are meant to empower government officials as well as limit them, and Congress and the Executive Branch should share a common commitment to both objectives.

The Task Force also calls on the President to issue guidelines governing the authority of intelligence and security agencies to receive, retain and disseminate government information gathered in the U.S. about U.S. persons and guidelines governing their ability to task the domestic collection of information. New guidelines in this area are particularly important since the creation of TTIC as an all-source intelligence and analysis center raises the question of what will replace the previous “line at the border” that largely defined the distinctive rules for foreign and domestic intelligence.

It is critically important that the President issue this guidance before another major terrorist incident occurs. If public debate were to take place in the shadow of another major national tragedy, it could lead to rushed and poorly conceived initiatives that not only fail to solve the underlying problems, but also have a detrimental impact on civil liberties.

Finally, the Task Force recommends that in one year, the Executive Branch and Congress evaluate the progress of federal, state, local, and private sector entities in improving information sharing and analysis and in utilizing private sector data while protecting civil liberties. To help with this evaluation, the Task Force issued detailed sets of questions than can be asked to determine whether adequate progress has been made.

The Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age is a diverse and bipartisan group of former policy makers from the past six presidential administrations, senior information technology executives, and privacy advocates from both the public and private sectors. The Markle Task Force has recommended ways of improving national security decisions by transforming business processes and how information is shared. Its recommendations informed the 9/11 Commission Report and were subsequently included in two federal laws.  Learn more about the Markle Task Force at www.markle.org/national-security.