Defensive Coordinators

When the 109th U.S. Congress convened in January, it picked up where it left off last year by introducing bills that build on legislative moves to combat identity theft, beef up the nation's bioterrorism preparedness and strengthen the role of cybersecurity in homeland defense.

Preventing ID theft was already on the docket when notice came in February that ChoicePoint, a company that aggregates public records for background checks, was the victim of fraud, which required alerts to more than 140,000 Americans that their IDs may have been stolen. The breach prompted calls from privacy interest groups for hearings by Congress and the Federal Trade Commission. (Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said the Senate Judiciary Committee would hold hearings.)

On Jan. 4, Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) introduced the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2005 (H.R. 220), which would require the government to issue all Americans new, randomly generated ID numbers and stop the use of Social Security numbers as identification. "Congress has a moral responsibility to address this problem because it was Congress that transformed the Social Security number into a national identifier," Paul told a House committee. The bill, which also would stop any plans for a national ID card, comes after Congress passed a law last year that stiffened penalties for ID thieves. The Ways and Means and Government Reform committees are taking up the bill.

Reducing the harm that could be caused by bioterrorist attacks is among the Senate Republicans' top 10 priorities, says New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, who filed a bill (S. 3, titled the Protecting America in the War on Terror Act of 2005) that would take steps to strengthen the U.S. public health system. The bill calls for expanding the availability of vaccines and improving government agencies' and health-care organizations' ability to respond to emergencies.

Gregg said his bill would build on last year's Project BioShield Act by doing more "to make sure that we have ready access to sources of the products required" to respond to bioterrorism. The Senate Finance Committee is looking at the bill.

Raising the profile of cybersecurity in the Department of Homeland Security was one step the House took last year, but one that President Bush didn't implement in his final intelligence reform package. At the start of this session, Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) reintroduced the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity Enhancement Act (H.R. 285), which would create an assistant secretary for cybersecurity within DHS's Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection directorate. The assistant secretary would hold authority over cybersecurity policy formulation and project management.

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