Markle task force hammers government again

A Markle Foundation task force report suggests ways for government to get data it needs without violating individuals' privacy or civil liberties.

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Despite the failure of efforts like the Total Information Awareness program, the government continues to look for ways to access data that's primarily in business databases, ostensibly so it can fight terrorism. To that end comes a Markle Foundation task force report designed to help government get at data it needs without violating individuals' privacy or civil liberties.

The task force formed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to examine how better use of information technology could reduce the threat of future attacks. Chaired by Markle President Zoe Baird and ex-Netscape CEO James Barksdale, the task force's first report in October 2002 outlined the failings of current infrastructure.

In addition to its private sector recommendations, the new report, "Creating a Trusted Information Network for Homeland Security," lays out specific technologies to help intelligence organizations improve communications. The Task Force also calls on the president to demand a new information exchange for sharing intelligence -- including cybersecurity threats -- that the private sector can embrace.

At the core of the task force's plan is the Systemwide Homeland Analysis and Resource Exchange (SHARE) Network, which would improve the way federal, state and local agencies share intelligence with each other and with private companies through secured communications.

Trust has been a major hurdle the federal government has yet to overcome in gaining complete cooperation with private companies that maintain the nation's critical infrastructure, and, therefore, remain the most vulnerable to cyberterrorism. But relevant data also exists at hoteliers, airlines, rental car companies and other businesses.

The Markle Task Force recommended a series of technologies that could assuage fears of federal information abuse. Among these are anonymous data sharing and analytic correlation tools and an "active watch list" program that pulls information from federal, state and local databases. Also included are policies and procedures that would establish standards and rules for digital-rights management, encryption, anonymizing, reporting, connectivity and other technologies.

Task force member Gilman Louie, head of In-Q-Tel, the CIA's venture arm, said government agencies were "amazed" by what they'd seen of a demo version of the SHARE Network, and there is a consensus in Washington that systems use must improve. However, several members of the task force present at the report's release at Stanford Law School last weekend felt compelled to note that this didn't mean change was imminent, or even likely.

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