Lieberman proposes $1 billion IT security fund
By Dan Verton
(IDG) -- Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, has called for the creation of a $1 billion IT fund that would enhance homeland and information security while providing a much-needed boost to the sagging economy.
The Connecticut Democrat's proposal would set up a fund that would be managed out of the White House Office of Management and Budget and that would be similar to one that was set up to help the government respond to the Y2k crisis. However, the money would be aimed specifically at jump-starting some of the more pressing IT security requirements throughout government and the private sector.
The proposal has attracted the support of Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who this week is expected to include it as part of his economic stimulus package to help the nation recover from the setbacks caused by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The money would go to projects that enhance the national homeland defense, thereby serving to protect Americans, while giving a boost to the flagging high-tech sector," said Leslie Phillips, communications director for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee.
Word of Lieberman's plan comes on the heels of a call from Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), for Congress "to put some real money on the table" for IT security improvements. However, Lieberman's $1 billion plan falls far short of the $10 billion Miller said was necessary to effect real change. Still, IT companies, from hardware and software vendors to networking, communications and security companies, stand to gain from the plan if passed by Congress.
According to talking points being used to sell the Lieberman proposal, the money in the fund could be spent only on projects to improve the federal government's information security systems, to protect critical infrastructure or to provide stronger defenses against natural and man-made threats to the nation.
For example, part of the money could be used to fund an "early warning detection system" for the aviation industry that would identify suspected terrorists when they book a flight, partially through the creation of a secure intranet accessible to law enforcement agencies. In addition, it would fund the use of biometrics-enabled smart cards to confirm the identities of passengers and cross-check fingerprints or facial patterns against terrorist watch lists. Funds could also pay for additional bulk-explosives scanners for airports and other baggage-scanning equipment.
The injection of new money could also be used to kick-start a national biological detection system to provide early warning of biological terrorist attacks, according to the Lieberman proposal. Through enhancements to the nation's communications infrastructure, authorities could receive online training on how to respond to chemical and biological incidents or other emergencies and tap into expert assistance through telemedicine.
There's also talk on Capitol Hill about using the money to purchase automatic scanning equipment for passport photos that could be linked to a national database of passport and visa holders. The Lieberman proposal calls for developing a special database to link universities and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to immediately detect student visa violations. In addition, high-speed communications enhancement could link all border patrol, immigration and customs networks and could integrate data on illegal border crossings from remote monitoring equipment positioned in unpopulated border areas.
The transportation sector, which has become one of the primary focus areas for law enforcement agencies on alert for possible future terrorist attacks, could also benefit from the new funding, according to Lieberman. IT could provide for better traffic management if evacuation from an urban area becomes necessary and could help authorities develop a tracking system that could monitor the movement of hazardous materials around the country. In addition, IT tools could provide real-time tracking of U.S.-bound shipping containers to allow better detection and location of high-risk shipments before they enter U.S. ports.
Despite Byrd's support for the plan, there's still uncertainty surrounding the future of the proposal. Democrats and Republicans differ significantly on the details behind the various proposals to improve anti-terrorism security and boost the economy.
"I don't think anyone knows what the final outcome will be," said Olga Grkavac, executive vice president of the ITAA's Enterprise Solutions Division. "ITAA supports this fund."
Alan Paller, director of the SANS Institute in Bethesda, Md., isn't so optimistic about how the new money would be used, however. "My concern would be the skill with which Washington consultants and IT vendors in particular might package every pet project as 'security-enhancing,'" said Paller. "If there were a tough, rational culling process ... I'd be a fan."
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