Sept, 26, 2007
Source: Canadian Press
Secure identification and sharing international passenger lists boost security with the added bonus of protecting privacy, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told skeptical privacy watchdogs on Wednesday.

Chertoff said new ID cards with chips and other tough-to-copy features prevent identification theft from innocent people.

"My driver's licence can by copied by a 16-year-old using his home computer and Microsoft, and he can go in and steal my identity and invade my privacy at will," Chertoff told the international conference of privacy authorities and civil liberty organizations.

"When we migrate to a system of secure documentation with security features, that will be no longer possible."

Chertoff added that passenger lists and other shared intelligence on the 80 million people who fly into the United States every year allow security officials to drastically narrow down their targets for arrival screening.

Instead of "flipping a coin" to pick travellers who should face extra scrutiny, Chertoff said it's better to collect a "small amount" of personal information on all of them, before they land.

"I think by focusing on people who are the higher risk, we are net increasing privacy for the vast majority of innocent travellers," Chertoff said.

Chertoff's contentious speech to open the conference was met with skepticism and outright hostility.

Barry Steinhardt, director of technology at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the United States is making demands of neighbours such as Canada to produce passenger lists that have been impossible to assemble within the U.S. for privacy reasons, among others.

"I don't know whether to laugh at the folly of our efforts, or to cry at how we've treated our best friends," said Steinhardt.

One European director of data protection said U.S. security officials tread carefully when dealing with the privacy of their own citizens.

"The general suspicion towards government in the United States may suggest the U.S. government doesn't always get all the data it wants from its own citizens," said Jacob Kohnstamm of the Dutch Data Protection Authority.

"However, it often seems this natural threshold doesn't seem to apply to non-U.S. citizens. There is hardly any evidence of concern for the privacy of non-U.S. citizens."

While some debate has taken place in Canada over the idea of a national ID card, Chertoff said Americans would never stand for it.

"Their heads would explode," he said.

Several states have banned national U.S. ID cards, with California about to do the same.

Stephen Harper, are you listening?