- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 2004

As Americans head into the New Year divided over last November’s close election and still concerned about the threat of terrorism and the loss of American lives in Iraq, there are a number of reasons they can be optimistic America will be safer and freer in 2005. These include:

(1) National drivers license standards. America’s paper-based identification system, foiled by bar-hopping teenagers for years will be drastically improved by passage of the intelligence reform bill calling for driver’s license standards. No longer will terrorists or criminals be able to obtain a driver’s license from states with the lowest standards as the September 11, 2001, hijackers did.

(2) Integration of surveillance networks. From Chicago to Baltimore to Washington, D.C., cities are linking together surveillance cameras from schools, metros, public buildings and roads into a coverage umbrella that will allow officials to immediately dispatch aid to traffic accidents, discourage criminal activity in neighborhoods and schools and identify potentially threatening behavior around critical infrastructure.

(3) Improved passports. The U.S. VISIT program, which is being rolled out at air, sea and land entry points, requires biometric passports of countries including 27 where visas aren’t required for entry. The program’s success is evidenced by the more than 330 criminals or immigration violators caught by law enforcement officials.

(4) National intelligence director. How effectively would a 15-division corporation operate without a chief executive officer coordinating its activities? The September 11 Commission determined that conflict among the nation’s spy agencies was a major factor in the inability to prevent America’s worst terroristattack. Intelligence reform signed by the president empowers a national intelligence director to lead a single intelligence community into the 21st century.

(5) Improved information sharing. As a result of intelligence reform, the Department of Homeland Security will create an intelligence-sharing network spanning federal, state and local agencies and including the private sector. Along with common standards for security clearances and classifying information, a single information-sharing network will ensure the next time police ticket a future Mohamed Atta for an expired license, they’ll also know about his expired visa.

(6) Registered traveler program. Travelers willing to hand over biographical and biometric information to the Transportation Security Administration will have an expedited trip through airport security. A favorite of business travelers at the handful of airports now testing the program, the question is not whether to expand it but how quickly.

(7) Biometrics. Although the federal government has been the main impetus for using fingerprints, iris scans, facial recognition and other forms of biometrics, the private sector is quickly embracing it. Whether biometrics is for used identifying adults entering day-care centers, performing background checks on gun buyers, increasing security at vulnerable facilities or simply eliminating memorized passwords for computers, the application of biometrics offers numerous ways to enhance public safety and security

(8) Data mining. Analyzing large data sets for important patterns has been used by the private sector for years in areas such as medical analysis, financial forecasting and identifying credit card fraud. A Government Accountability Office report indicates the federal government has employed the technology in 199 different projects for everything from detecting fraud, abuse and waste, uncovering criminal activity and most importantly, identifying terrorist behavior. Even the American Civil Liberties Union realizes the value of data mining as we found when analyzing of their donor database was uncovered.

(9) More freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan. Recent elections in Afghanistan and the coming elections in Iraq are bringing democracy to corners of the world once reserved for terrorists, dictators and other U.S. enemies. While the jury is still out on the long-term effects of these historic events, examples such as the fall of the Berlin Wall show that once the roots of freedom have been planted they are difficult to pull up.

(10) Government accountability.# This past year showed that the Founding Fathers’ system of checks and balances still works centuries later. In separate rulings allowing Guantanamo prisoners to challenge their detention and preventing secret searches of Internet service provider customer records, to name a couple of cases, the judicial branch asserted its authority over what many considered an unchecked executive. The new Privacy and Civil Liberties Board and a chief privacy officer for every federal agency ensure greater scrutiny of government use of personal data. Armies of reporters, activists, whistle-blowers and bloggers watch every public official’s move, so very few things in government will long escape the public eye.

While America will continue facing risks from terrorists and other threats including abuse of power, 2005 raises the bar for those seeking to harm our security or freedom. This is one good reason to toast the New Year.

Dennis Bailey is an information technology consultant. He is the author of the new book, “The Open Society Paradox: Why the 21st Century Calls for More Openness Not Less.”

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