NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 8, 2009

The Department of Homeland Security will collect millions of new electronic records about private planes, imported cargo, foreign visitors and federal contractors as part of an array of controversial last-minute security policies imposed by the Bush administration.

Businesses say the policies are costly, and worry that sensitive information could be released if a database is lost or stolen. Some charge the Homeland Security Department with rushing to impose policies and ignoring business concerns.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said that by collecting information electronically, the department can:

  • Run security checks more quickly than with paper forms.
  • Flag people or cargo that should be barred from the United States.

Some changes have been in the works for more than a year, but there has been a lot of opposition.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and four other groups have sued to block a policy requiring federal contractors to send information about employees electronically to the department to verify that they can work legally in the United States:

  • Businesses worry that the department's online system, which some employers now use voluntarily, incorrectly lists legal citizens as ineligible to work.
  • Further, companies fear that their business strategies could be compromised if sensitive information leaks out.

Disputes are inevitable, said Kudwa.  However, she notes that the government routinely listens to business concerns about security. "We've approached regulations focusing on long-term security risks, which is not something the market necessarily does for itself," she said.

Source: Thomas Frank, "Homeland Security Rules on Data Collection Rile Businesses," USA Today, January 7, 2009.

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