Sharing information domestically and internationally to fight terrorists and transnational criminals doesn't have to shred privacy and civil liberties protections, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano told the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Law and National Security during a speech today.
"We have to work at home and abroad to protect our common interests," Napolitano said. "These include our security interests, but also our privacy interests. These two certainly are not separate and distinct; they are part of the same foundation that allows modern societies to function."
One of DHS' main strategies to promote information-sharing are state-based intelligence fusion centers, according to Napolitano. Fusions centers are analytic centers, usually staffed by federal, state, and locals co-located in the same facility, where threat information is gathered, analyzed, and shared up and down the government chain.
"In a typical fusion center, an FBI agent might be sitting next to a state highway patrol officer and in another, an immigration and customs officer may be working next to an agent from the DEA or from a tribal police department," she explained.
Napolitano said that DHS is building privacy safeguards into the fusion center architecture as it deploys agency personnel to the 72-recognized centers nationwide. Currently, DHS has 44 field representatives stationed at fusion centers and plans to deploy representatives to all fusion centers by the end of the year.
To acculturate a respect for civil liberties in each fusion center, DHS have provided specific guidelines for appointing privacy officers, writing a privacy and civil liberties policy, conducting community outreach, and developing oversight mechanisms. Napolitano also said DHS provides training and reference materials to state and local partners. Critics, however, charge fusion centers have already violated citizens' civil liberties.
At the departmental level, Napolitano noted that DHS employs a chief privacy officer and publishes privacy impact assessments to ensure privacy is built into all DHS policies and programs.
Napolitano also addressed the importance of international information-sharing agreements, despite different cultural attitudes toward privacy and civil liberties.
"Despite our differences, the United States and our allies have found that our agencies must work together," she said. "It does not serve privacy or security if one government agency that collects the information cannot provide it to an agency that has a legitimate security need for it."
Recent accomplishments, according to Napolitano, include signing Preventing and Combating Serious Crime agreements with 14 countries, which "allow law enforcement to share information about known and suspected terrorists and query each others' systems on a case-by-case basis."
DHS along with the Department of Justice have also agreed with the European Union on 16 core principles that protect personal information while processing and sharing terrorism and transnational crime-related information for law enforcement.
Throughout her speech, the secretary stressed that information isn't only critical to democratic governments delivering public goods such as education or healthcare, but necessary to prevent "despicable terrorists acts we've seen over the past decade in the United States, in Spain, in the U.K., and other parts of the world."
Good information, she said, helps prevent terrorists and other criminals from crossing borders, boarding planes, financing terrorist and criminal enterprises, and trafficking drugs and humans.
"We believe security and privacy do not sit separate from each other," she said, wrapping up her speech. "They need not be in opposition and can if fact serve to reinforce each other. We don't have to give up one for the other; nor will we."
♦ Photo of DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano by The National Guard/Flickr