UPDATED: Markle suggests ways info sharing, security can coexist

Public trust is critical to properly sharing information, the foundation and other experts say.

Almost five years after the 2001 terrorist attacks, public trust in information-sharing processes is less than it was before the attacks, said Jim Dempsey, policy director at the Center for Democracy and Technology. Agencies that trust one another to do their jobs are more likely to share information and use what comes from outside sources, he said.

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Editor's note: This story was updated at 10:15 a.m. July 14, 2006, to correct that Zoe Baird and members of the Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age, not the Board of Directors, met with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The Markle Foundation released its third and final report today on how to improve information sharing while protecting civil liberties and enhancing national security.

The Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age released the report, “Mobilizing Information to Prevent Terrorism: Accelerating Development of a Trusted Information-Sharing Environment,” at the Brookings Institution, a liberal think tank in Washington, D.C.

The report provides specific ideas for implementing a Trusted Information-Sharing Environment (ISE), in which users, policy-makers and the public trust the information collected and the system that collects it, said Jim Barksdale, task force co-chairman and partner and co-founder of the Barksdale Group.

The report calls for renewed leadership by the president and Congress to accelerate the process that is currently under way. It makes suggestions including the creation of:

  • An authorized use standard to determine who should have access to information the government has lawfully collected based on how they will use the information rather than its place of collection.
  • A risk management approach to classification that does a better job of balancing the risks of inappropriate disclosure with those of failing to share information.
  • Clear guidelines for sharing information while protecting civil liberties.
  • Technology that facilitates sharing while protecting security and privacy, such as tear lines and audit technology.
  • An effective dispute-resolution process for agencies that disagree on how much information to share with one another.
  • An Information-Sharing Institute, where experts would collect knowledge about information sharing and provide training to promulgate useful technologies and policies.

“Not enough has been done to date to implement ISE,” said Zoe Baird, task force co-chairwoman and president of the foundation. “We need to transform our government faster.”

“We have consistently said that public trust in a network that uses personally identifiable information can only be achieved if governmentwide guidelines for information sharing and privacy protection are established after open public debate,” Baird said.

A lack of government guidelines and the criteria to put them in have stalled information sharing, she said. “Until they are, turf wars and culture will continue to stand in the way,” she said.

The government needs room to make mistakes, as well as clear guidance and training, Baird said. Fear of making mistakes is leading some organization not to share some information and to engage in risky behavior that could intrude on civil liberties or privacy, or have questionable counterterrorism value, she said.

Guidelines that eliminate ambiguity can facilitate effective information sharing and help implement the right technology, said William Crowell, a national security consultant and task force member.

“We think the technical solutions are there,” Crowell said. “We don’t think they’re fully integrated.” Deployment of the system should be incremental to minimize failures and allow for better scalability and interoperability, he said.

The United States must continue to develop counterterrorism technologies to connect the right people to the right information, enforce policies and enhance the public trust, said Jeff Jonas, chief scientist at IBM’s Entity Analytic Solutions Group.

Technology is now available that can offer much more objective, detailed and robust accountability and oversight structure, Dempsey said. It can lower transaction costs, create audit trails to find abuse and improve real-time cross-agency information sharing, he said.

The information-sharing program manager at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will be primarily responsible for implementing the system, Crowell said.

The president’s budget should include enough money to create and maintain ISE, Crowell said. Clear lines of authority must be clearly laid out to federal agencies, he said.

Baird said she and members of the task force met with senior ODNI officials and plan to speak with Congress members in critical oversight roles.

Copies of the report are available here (.pdf).