Tag: dhs

Showdown on Homeland Security

If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend the Frontline report Are We Safer? Since September 11, 2001, the government has gone on a spending spree without any regard for fiscal federalism, dumping $31 billion into grant programs. The program is based on The Washington PostsTop Secret America article, “Monitoring America.” Watch it below:

Much of this spending has gone to local pork projects or allowed state and local governments to avoid the realities of budgeting – spend federal counterterrorism dollars on normal law enforcement requirements while spending the local tax base on unsustainable pensions for public employees. For a tally of this excess, check out the Price of Peril, an interactive map showing homeland security spending by state, courtesy of the Center for Investigative Reporting.

All of this spending isn’t without cost to our civil liberties. The recipients of the money have to show something, hence the rise of fusion centers across the nation and the scaremongering reports they produce. There simply aren’t enough terrorists to go around.

Two of the people featured in the Frontline report, Mike German of the ACLU (and former FBI agent) and Harvey Eisenberg, Chief, National Security Section, Office of United States Attorney, District of Maryland, squared off at a Cato Institute event in 2009. Check it out here. Pay special attention to Eisenberg’s remarks at 53:35, where he misstates the threshold for starting a domestic counterterrorism investigation under the Attorney General Guidelines.

Mike German corrects him – the 2008 guidelines loosened the standard such that agents don’t even need a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity to investigate someone. Eisenberg responds that he requires it for all of his investigations. That’s admirable, if true, but a bit unnerving that the policy change is news to him.

REAL ID Is Still Dead, But It Is Walking Dead

The cost and ease of implementing REAL ID are not shown by a new report from the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies.

Nor does it establish why law-abiding American citizens should be required to carry a national ID. But the report is a good signal that the national ID effort continues. A coterie of national ID advocates are working with state motor vehicle bureaucrats to build a national ID. This is why repeal and defunding of REAL ID is so needed.

It’s been a while, so let’s review: REAL ID is the national ID law Congress passed in May of 2005. It gave states a three-year deadline to produce IDs meeting national standards and to network their databases of driver information together into a national ID system. In regulations it proposed in March 2007, the Department of Homeland Security extended that draconian deadline. States would have five years, starting in May 2008, to move all driver’s license and ID card holders into REAL ID-compliant cards.

At the time, DHS estimated the costs for this project at $17.2 billion dollars (net present value, 7% discount). Costs to individuals came it at nearly $6 billion—mostly in wasted time. The bulk of the costs fell on state governments, though: nearly $11 billion dollars.

To drive down the cost estimate, DHS pushed the implementation schedule way back. In its final rule of January 2008, it allowed states a deadline extension to December 31, 2009 just for the asking, and a second extension to May 2011 for meeting eighteen “benchmarks”—many of them things states were already doing or would have done anyway: taking pictures of license applicants, having them sign their applications, documenting their dates of birth, maintaining fraudulent document training programs, and so on.

Then states would have until the end of 2017 to replace all cards with the national ID card—just under ten years. DHS assumed that only 75% of people would actually get the national ID to drive the cost estimate down even further.

The Center for Immigration Studies report, authored by national ID lobbyist Janice Kephart, ratchets back even further on what ”implementation” means to argue that REAL ID is a cost-effective success.

States like Maryland and Delaware, once committed, have completed implementation of the 18 benchmarks within a year for only twice the grant monies provided by the federal government. Extrapolated out, that puts total costs for implementing the 18 REAL ID benchmarks in a range from $350 million to $750 million, an order of magnitude less than estimated previously.

Again, these benchmarks are not the substance of REAL ID, which is uniform collection and sharing of driver information, and uniform display of driver information in the “machine-readable zone” of a national ID card. But meeting some of the benchmarks only costs twice as much money as the states don’t have to spare!

The report is an important signal, though. The national ID builders haven’t gone away, and Congress continues to fund the national ID project. DHS has allocated $176 million to building a national ID so far, and it has gaudily rattled states’ cages trying to get them to spend.

During the debate about spending for the current (2011) fiscal year, the House-passed “Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act” defunded the network for driver information sharing known as the “REAL ID hub,” and it also rescinded $16,500,000 in previously spent funds. That rescission should be included when the current Congress takes up FY 2011 spending again in March. And Congress should put a stake through the heart of the REAL ID law. The liberty-crushing national ID plan should be repealed, eliminated once and for all.

Prediction: DHS Programs Will Create Privacy Concerns in 2011

The holiday travel season this year revealed some of the real defects in the Transportation Security Administration’s new policy of subjecting select travelers to the “option” of going through airport strip-search machines or being subjected to an intrusive pat-down more akin to a groping. Anecdotes continue to come forth, including the recent story of a rape victim who was arrested at an airport in Austin, TX after refusing to let a TSA agent feel her breasts.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is working on the “next big thing”: body-scanning everywhere. This “privacy impact assessment” from DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate details a plan to use millimeter wave—a technology in strip-search machines—along with other techniques, to examine people from a distance, not just at the airport but anywhere DHS wants.

With time to observe TSA procedures this holiday season, I’ve noticed that it takes a very long time to get people through strip-search machines. In Milwaukee, the machines were cordoned off and out of use the Monday after Christmas Day because they needed to get people through. Watch for privacy concerns and sheer inefficiency to join up when TSA pushes forward with universal strip/grope requirements.

And the issue looks poised to grow in the new year. Republican ascendancy in the House coincides with their increasing agitation about this government security excess.

I’ll be speaking at an event next Thursday, January 6th, called ”The Stripping of Freedom: A Careful Scan of TSA Security Procedures.” It’s hosted by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) at the Carnegie Institute for Science in Washington, DC.

EPIC recently wrote a letter asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to task the DHS Privacy Committee (or “DPIAC,” on which I serve) with studying the impact of the body scanner program on individuals’ constitutional and statutory rights:

The TSA’s deployment of body scanners as the primary screening technique in American airports has raised widespread public concerns about the protection of privacy. It is difficult to imagine that there is a higher priority issue for the DPIAC in 2011 than a comprehensive review of the TSA airport body scanner program.

Will the Secretary ask her expert panel for a thorough documented review? Wait and see.

Whatever happens there, privacy concerns with DHS programs will be big in 2011.

And You Look to Government for Cybersecurity?

Washington Times reporter Shaun Waterman has a characteristically excellent article out today about U.S. cybersecurity authorities failing to secure their own systems.

According to a new report by government auditors, systems at the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), part of the Department of Homeland Security, were not maintained with updates and security patches in a timely fashion and as a result were riddled with vulnerabilities that hackers could exploit.

Time and again, people look to government intervention based on what they imagine government might do under ideal conditions. Real conditions produce far weaker results.

We’re better off distributing the problem of data, network, and computer security among all the self-interested actors in the country—fallible as they are. We should not abandon the problem to a central authority whose failure fails us all.

We Fail More—So Put Us in Charge

The Washington Post reports today on an article coming out in Foreign Affairs in which Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III reveals a successful 2008 intrusion into military computer systems. Malicious code placed on a thumb drive by a foreign intelligence agency uploaded itself onto a network run by the U.S. military’s Central Command and propagated itself across a number of domains.

The Post article says that Lynn “puts the Homeland Security Department on notice that although it has the ‘lead’ in protecting the dot.gov and dot.com domains, the Pentagon — which includes the ultra-secret National Security Agency — should support efforts to protect critical industry networks.”

The failure of the military to protect its own systems creates an argument for it to have preeminence in protecting private computer infrastructure? Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security will reveal how badly it has been hacked in order to regain the upper hand in the battle to protect us.

DHS FOIbles

The Associated Press is reporting that persons filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with the Department of Homeland Security during the last year faced scrutiny beyond what the law requires.

Career employees were ordered to provide Secretary Janet Napolitano’s political staff with information about the people who asked for records — such as where they lived, whether they were private citizens or reporters — and about the organizations where they worked.

If a member of Congress sought such documents, employees were told to specify Democrat or Republican.

This, despite President Barack Obama’s statement that federal workers should “act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation” under FOIA, and Attorney General Eric Holder’s assertion: “Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the new era of open government.”

The White House separately reviewed FOIA requests to see documents about spending under the $862 billion stimulus law. Read the whole thing.

Souder’s Departure

In case you haven’t heard, Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) is departing Congress because of an extramarital affair with one of his staffers. His replacement can only improve Indiana’s Third District on drug policy and limited government (and here).

During the initial hearings on the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, Souder was one of two representatives (the other being former Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.)) stressing the need for DHS to get into the drug war business. Souder went so far as to compare drug use to chemical warfare: “more than 4,000 Americans die each year from drug abuse – at least the equivalent of a major terrorist attack.” Rep. Gilman went so far as to propose that the DEA fall under the DHS since, as anyone can see, its supervision of nearly two-dozen subordinate agencies isn’t enough. And drug dealer = terrorist. Clearly.

While it would be preferable for voters of his district to reject pork-barrel spending and the nonsensical drug war, this resignation is not lamentable.