Bill to Enhance Federal Security

Homeland legislation will protect data disclosure.

The proposed department of Homeland Security, which President Bush is expected to sign into law this week, is slated to enhance network security standards within government and throughout the country.

The initiative includes provisions to make it easier for companies to turn over potentially sensitive information to the government and to sell anti-terrorism products and services in the public and private sectors.

Concentrating responsibility for cyber-security in one agency should give technology providers a faster, more efficient way to collaborate with the government, industry sources say. "It will be much easier to coordinate once this organization gets put together," said Timothy Wright, senior vice president and chief technology officer at Terra Lycos S.A.

Terra Lycos, based in Barcelona, Spain, is trying to develop an emergency broadcasting system for the Internet. Under the plan, if a terrorist attack occurs, Terra Lycos and other major online service providers would gather information from government agencies and post it on the Web.

"In the event of an emergency, the demand for information from the Internet is going to be considerably higher, and the U.S. government doesnt have the infrastructure to provide that information to citizens," said Wright, who works in Terra Lycos Waltham, Mass., office. "[Now] there will be a single point of contact for what used to be 22 departments."

The Homeland Security legislation reduces the risk of liability to companies selling high-risk, anti-terrorism software, hardware or other technology, such as surveillance equipment or sensors. If a terrorist attack penetrates an anti-terrorism product or service, the providers liability would be limited; litigation would take place in federal court with no punitive damages allowed.

If a technology provider seeks a contract but cannot bid because it is unable to get insurance, the parties could apply to the Department of Homeland Security to be certified for liability limits, said David Colton, vice president of Strategic Initiatives at the Information Technology Association of America, in Washington.

"Companies that have been asked by government purchasers to provide advanced, anti-terrorist technology have found it impossible to get insurance," Colton said. "This [liability protection] only comes into play when the enemy attacks and gets through."

The Department of Homeland Security legislation makes it easier for companies to turn over potentially sensitive data to the federal government because the information will be exempt from public disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.

Safe at Home

The four divisions of the Department of Homeland Security:

  • Border and Transportation Responsible for the nations borders and immigration
  • Emergency Preparedness Consolidates first response from a variety of agencies
  • Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Coordinates response to weapons of mass destruction
  • Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection Merges assessment and response to cyber-security threats