Clarke: Using Technology to Secure IDs Is Vital

More secure identity cards are necessary to defend the United States against terrorists, former U.S. presidential adviser Richard Clarke said during a keynote on Monday.

While not advocating a national ID card, Clarke said that, at the very least, drivers' licenses must be made more secure and that incentives for adopting technology such as smart cards should be proposed.

"We need to convince people that they should use smart cards because they are more convenient," he said, during a keynote kicking off the Smart Card Alliance's fall conference. "We are not going to have national ID cards, because there is a large group of American people--a minority, but a large minority--that oppose the idea."

Clark, who worked in counterterrorism and security roles in the U.S. government for the past 30 years and whose book, "Against All Enemies," criticized President Bush's handling of terrorism, said better securing U.S. citizens' data should be a major initiative for the administration.

The Bush Administration has already taken some steps toward adopting secure ID cards by issuing Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12 at the end of August, which orders that a secure identification card standard be created and mandates that all federal employees must use the standard.

More secure identification cards in conjunction with better procedures for confirming identity could have likely stopped the terrorists, many of which had valid state driver's licenses. State licenses are neither secure nor well-authenticated, Clarke said.

"Driver's licenses give a false sense of security," he said, adding that "of all the implementation costs of smart cards, the largest portion should be spent on proving that you are you."

Clarke took the Bush Administration to task for not making the United States, and the world, safer from terrorists since Sept. 11, 2001. He pointed to data indicating that there were more terrorist actions worldwide in the three years since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon than in the three years prior to the attacks. He also claimed that terrorist recruitment and funding had increased.

However, according to "Patterns of Global Terrorism," an annual U.S. State Department report on such attacks, the number of incidents has more than halved from 426 terrorist acts in 2000 to about 200 each for 2002 and 2003.

Clarke also criticized the lack of progress made by the administration in implementing the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace. The policy document, released by the Bush Administration in February 2003, outlines broad steps that the nation should take to protect the Internet and communications infrastructure.

"Almost nothing has been done to implement it," he said. Pointing to the proliferation of online, but not necessarily terrorist, threats, he added, "The state of cyberspace is a state of chaos."

Better identity cards could help banks harden their online services, convincing more people to purchase items and pay bills on the Internet. Open and publicly debated standards could result in secure cards that people would be comfortable adopting.

If the industry does the job right, the nation stands to benefit, Clarke said.

"We can do all of this and preserve our traditions of civil liberties and privacy and be more secure as a nation," he said.