Conference Tackles Identity, Cybersecurity Programs In Next Administration

U.S. federal government identity and smart card programs have grown significantly under the Bush administration. But with the election a week away, one important question on people's minds is, what will happen under the next administration?

This was a common theme for presenters as the Smart Card Alliance held its three-day, 7th annual government conference and hosted a meeting of the federal government's Interagency Advisory Board.

Smart cards, biometrics and identity spending got a boost from two wars and programs to improve homeland security, according to Jeremy Grant, identity solution analyst for Stanford Group, an investment banking and advisory company. Grant estimates federal spending on major U.S. identity solution programs grew 58.6 percent in 2007 to $1.6 billion, and by another 47.5 percent this year. He projects spending growth will flatten in 2009, growing by 3.1 percent.

Looking ahead to the new administration of either candidate, Grant expects good support for homeland security programs like U.S. VISIT, TWIC and electronic passport.

"Identity programs have not been particularly partisan," he said.

Grant is particularly bullish on the outlook for biometrics for defense and intelligence identity applications, which have proven themselves as valuable warfighting tools against the asymmetric threat facing America today. Special Forces in Iraq are capturing fingerprints for detainees, and finding 29 percent of them are getting a match in DoD databases, allowing them to identify and remove about two people a day who are known to be involved in Improvised Explosive Device (IED) activity against U.S. troops.

"Denying the enemy anonymity has proven it can help win wars," Grant said.

Still, with the economy, an expensive bailout and promises for more healthcare coverage on the table, figuring out identity strategy is likely to be low on the list of priorities for either new president, according to Grant.

Identity is so critical to so many missions of the Department of Homeland Security they have created an organization dedicated to it. Kathleen Kraninger, director of the Office of Screening Coordination, explained that their role is "to examine how we look at identity for the long term across all of our programs" and to try to rationalize what until now has tended to be separate systems and applications.

Looking more broadly at information security, there has been an awakening in recent years to its importance and the fact that the threat has escalated from individual hackers to organized crime to the nation/state level, according to Paul Kurtz, an advisor on cyber security to both the Clinton and Bush administrations and who is currently chief operating officer of Good Harbor Consulting and an on-air consultant to CBS News.

The Bush administration's Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI) identified key issues, including a very low level of situational awareness, and cybersecurity has been put up as a key transition issue. Kurtz predicts that the pendulum will swing and government will start to do more about information security, including work on supply chain security management, more effective attack analysis and seeing how HSPD-12 can be pushed out beyond government.

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