Building an Effective, Sustainable Partnership Between the Government and the Private Sector: Markle Task Force on National Security in the Information Age

James B. Steinberg
James B. Steinberg Former Brookings Expert, University Professor, Social Science, International Affairs, and Law - Maxwell School, Syracuse University

December 1, 2003


The challenge of preventing and responding to the new security threats is very different from the one we, as a nation, faced in the Cold War. Today, the private sector is on the frontline of the homeland security effort: Its members are holders of information that may prove crucial to thwarting terrorist attacks; stewards of critical infrastructure that must be protected and dangerous materials that could be used to do harm; and important actors in responding to attacks. As we said in our first Task Force report, private sector information is essential to counterterrorism, and government agencies should have timely, needed access to that information, pursuant to guidelines that give confidence that the information will be used in a responsible way.

Government agencies already have access to certain kinds of privately held information. However, the rules governing access to it have evolved haphazardly and are confusing and sometimes contradictory. Moreover, the rules and practices fail to take into account the dramatic evolution of information technologies that can substantially increase the value of such data in helping to prevent acts of terror. The time has come for a fresh look at how the government can make the most effective use of the information that it truly needs to meet emerging security challenges.

At the same time, if our government is to sustain public support for its efforts, it must demonstrate that the information it seeks to acquire is genuinely important to the security mission, and that it is obtained and used in a way that minimizes any negative impact on privacy and civil liberties. Current privacy protection laws and procedures are not in synch with the challenges and possibilities that rapidly advancing technologies are bringing; there are few reliable processes to ensure that information is accurate and up-to-date; and some of the proposed information-related programs seem to offer little added value and may impose substantial costs on industry. Plus, there are inadequate mechanisms of oversight and accountability to prevent unauthorized access to, and use of, information.

Co-chairs of Working Group II are Gilman Louie and James Steinberg. Members are Zoë Baird, Stewart Baker, Jim Barksdale, Jerry Berman, Wesley Clark, James Dempsey, Esther Dyson, Amitai Etzioni, David Farber, John Gage, Margaret Hamburg, John Hamre, Danny Hillis, Jeff Jonas, Arnold Kanter, James Lewis, Jeffrey Smith, Abraham Sofaer, Paul Schott Stevens, Michael Vatis, Philip Zelikow, and Jim Zimbardi. This paper was written by James Steinberg.

This paper was published as part of the Task Force’s second report, “Creating a Trusted Network for Homeland Security.” The first report, “Protecting America’s Freedom in the Information Age,” was published October 2002.