GOVERNMENT The war on terrorism may never be over, but the ability to prevent terrorist attacks, especially ones with a technological component, is well within reach. That was the message at Wednesday's seminar on Critical Solutions for Homeland Security and Information Assurance.
The day-long event was sponsored by Oracle and provided a showcase for the company's security partners to exhibit their wares for attendees, many of them from state and local governments.
Oracle has been intimately involved with the development of Homeland Security since immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. This participation hasn't been without controversy -- most notably Oracle chairman Larry Ellison's proposal to issue national ID cards to all US citizens -- but the software and database developer also has lent its considerable expertise to upgrading governmental information systems to better prepare them for future attacks.
"Before Sept. 11, there wasn't a lack of information, but there was a lack of coordination of information and a coordination of standards," says Steve Cooperman, Oracle vice president of Homeland Security.
Echoing that was Mark Struckman, director of research programs for the Center for Digital Government, Folsom, Calif. He says that because information systems that run water, transportation, electricity and the like could become terrorist targets, it may become necessary for employers to take preventive steps, such as running criminal background checks on potential IT employees. This may seem intrusive to some, but getting as much information as possible about the people who are entrusted to manage sensitive data and systems mandates a new way of looking at the process.
"We've got to get through the issues we've had in the past about sharing data," Struckman says.
The intrusiveness issue has been front and center during the creation, approval and administration of the Patriot Act (USA-P), which was enacted in response to Sept. 11 and has faced ongoing protests and legal challenges on a variety of fronts. Keynote speaker Tom Gede, executive director of the Conference of Western Attorneys General, sought to assuage some of the fears people have over USA-P. He points out that numerous legislative controls have been built into the act to prevent the government from overstepping its bounds on surveillance and prevention.
"The Patriot Act is not unconstitutional, and the movement to wage war against the war on terrorism is a misplaced sentiment," he says.
He acknowledges the "growing fear" that the government has gone too far with the new laws, but argues, "We need the appropriate legal tools in this battle; they're critical to our success in battling terrorism."
Nevertheless, he says the way the Department of Justice has altered its approach to fighting crime, and specifically terrorism, in the wake of Sept. 11 is a monumental development, one that's bound to raise many questions.
"The shift from identifying and prosecuting past crimes to identifying and preventing potential criminals is a huge change at the DOJ," he says. It's this metamorphosis that will open future doors both to legal challenges and to developers of more preventive IT security technologies, all seeking to find the sweet spot between safety and ongoing personal freedom.