• United States



by Sandy Kendall

Can We Reconcile the Pace of Legislation and Technology?

Apr 07, 20032 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

We Americans like to think of ourselves as inventive and resourceful. Like DARPAs Information Awareness Office director John Poindexter with his idea of a Total Information Awareness (TIA) program that would use the latest, greatest technology to enhance security by integrating all available electronic information about anyone with a credit card or drivers license or birth certificate. That was darn resourceful.

Turns out it was also too scary, and not just for the privacy extremists on both the left and right wings. For the moderate middle, too. Congress determined that no Pentagon R&D money could be spent on TIA without its express approval. It also requires Congressional approval for deployment by TIA of any technology to spy on U.S. citizens. It gave the Department of Defense 90 days to report back with, among other things, a detailed explanation of the actual and intended use of the funds for each project and activity of TIA, target dates for deployment and an assessment of the likely impact of the implementation on privacy and civil liberties.

The 90-day period is drawing to a close. And we havent heard much about TIA since Congresss ruling. Maybe its because privacy fears have gone from code red to code orange. And obviously certain other matters have dominated the news in the interim.

But, with privacy qualms comforted, paranoia creeps in. Are we being foolish to let powerful technologies languish offstage while legislators determine whether its OK to use them? Thats not very resourceful. They could be saving our lives.

In common practice, inventive developments and new capabilities in technology evolve much faster than your typical legislation. And legislation pertaining to technology is often further slowed by having to educate the decision-makers, who are all smart folks but not experts in this stuff, about the powers and limitations of particular solutions. You can picture it, endless hearings and presentations and Pentagon reports and lobbying vendors and meanwhile versions 2.0 and 3.0 and more are released. It goes against our national character to force inventiveness and resourcefulness to yield to patience. Should they? How do we reconcile the pace of lawmaking with the pace of toolmaking?