- Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff this week
floated an idea to start a nonprofit group that would collect information
on private citizens, flag suspicious activity, and send names of suspicious
people to his department.
- The idea, which Chertoff tossed out at an April 27 meeting
with security-industry officials, is reminiscent of the Defense Department's
now-dead Total Information Awareness program that sought to sift though
heaps of foreign intelligence information to root out potential terrorist
- According to one techie who attended the April 27 meeting,
Chertoff told the group, "Maybe we can create a nonprofit and track
people's activities, and an algorithm could red-flag individuals. Then,
the nonprofit could give us the names."
- Chertoff also suggested that private industry form a
group to collect proprietary information about cyber- and other infrastructure-security
breaches from companies; scrub it of identifying information; aggregate
it; and pass it along to the department. The financial services industry
already has such a group.
- "The secretary was responding to a hypothetical
question with a hypothetical answer," said Homeland Security Department
press secretary Brian Roehrkasse. "He did not offer specific programmatic
content or discuss any specific proposed approach. Rather, he was discussing,
in general terms, the importance of this issue of balancing security and
- Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology
Association of America, organized the gathering of about 50 security-industry
executives from companies such as Microsoft, Oracle, and Verizon. Reached
by phone at the meeting, he characterized the event as "an organizational
meeting to discuss how the [information-technology] industry can work more
effectively with each other" and with the Homeland Security Department.
- Because the meeting was closed to the press, Miller would
not discuss Chertoff's comments.One meeting participant said that Chertoff
told the group that having a nonprofit collect names rather than the government
"would alleviate some of the concerns people have." Not so for
this participant: "This is what made me sort of shift in my seat.
It sounds like investigating every person for no reason." He was particularly
concerned that an unknown formula created by this new group would determine
the red flags.