Cyber-policy guru and Congress' chief anti-terror cop said Tuesday he fully expects another terrorist attack on the homeland, but added he opposes knee-jerk security measures that do little real good while infringing greatly on civil liberties.
Former Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, now the head of a congressionally appointed anti-terror commission, told an audience at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md., that a national ID card would be "too creepy for me."
We cannot, Gilmore said, "let the terrorists redefine our society for us."
Gilmore's post was created by Congress in 1999 but became much more critical after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington.
"It (Sept. 11) created an environment of change in American society and culture," he said. "A change for the worse."
Gilmore said intelligence gathered by law enforcement authorities indicates that terrorists are attempting to develop programs that infiltrate and disable U.S. computer systems.
"I’d be shocked if we didn’t have another attack – it would be so easy," he said. "But I think we have to recognize that you cannot allow the enemy the power to compromise our essential values and freedoms."
The idea for a national identification system that would require citizens to carry an ID card with his or picture on it and perhaps biometric proof like a fingerprint or retina scan has gained a foothold since the events of Sept. 11.
Proponents say such a system would help consolidate existing federal, state and local databases and tighten border and airline security by effectively tracking lawbreakers and illegal aliens.
Harris Miller, the president and CEO of the International Technology Association of America, said that while he doesn’t think an ID card is necessary, he believes that creating a national database, much like the Social Security number issued to everyone in order to be employed is necessary and does not hurt freedom.
"Like it or not, to paraphrase, it’s the database, stupid," said Miller, who joined Gilmore and other technology experts in the debate. "A card, as a stand-alone, is not the answer."
He said Americans give up their personal information everyday when they apply for a job, a driver’s license, a credit card or even make a purchase over the Internet. So why not for security, he wondered?
"It’ll be even easier to share information, we would have the ability to give that person at the American Airlines counter the ability to access multiple databases and watch lists," he said.
Marvin Langston, a vice president with SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation) agreed and suggested a voluntary ID card.
"We need to find models that will work," Langston said. "I wouldn’t mind having a card that got me through airport security in one minute."
Critics of that idea contend if it were easy enough for the Sept. 11 hijackers to get fake driver’s licenses and passports then it would be equally easy for them to get fake national IDs?
"These (terrorists) are people who would have made it their business to get a national ID card if there was one to be had," said Gilmore.
James Lucier, a senior analyst with Prudential Securities, said the technology industry was moving towards an architecture in which massive amounts of personal information – whether it be financial, medical or criminal – could be widely shared, even before Sept. 11.
The issue is whether the information is secure and whether government should have unfettered access to it in the name of national or homeland security. Lucier suggests that the harm to privacy from such access would outweigh its potential law enforcement benefits.
"Government agencies are not really good at keeping good lists of people who are actively seeking to evade the system – but they are good at maintaining lists of law-abiding citizens who are paying their taxes," he said.
"I think the government that puts trust in citizens will probably have more access to the info it really needs for public safety and security than a government that makes trust impossible," he said.
Gilmore said he is concerned that Americans are needlessly being forced to believe they must give up their fundamental rights for the benefit of security. He said that has already happened with the advent of traffic light cameras to stop errant motorists and surveillance cameras on the streets.
"I don’t think we should teach Americans that they should get used to being watched," he said. "It runs against the American grain."