Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge Kicks off ISC West

April 6, 2006
Ridge offers personal and introspective look at technologies, and where national security and personal freedoms must meet

Tom Ridge kicked off the 2006 ISC West Expo at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nev., with a message designed to energize the industry, but it also raised questions of what security means in today's world.

His morning address on Wed., April 5, 2006, bounced between his experience in founding the Department of Homeland Security and motivational talk that saluted the security industry for its part in protecting the United States.

"We will overcome this threat," said Ridge. "We will prevail. And that's because people like you in the security world are developing technologies that can reduce the threat and reduce the vulnerability."

"We need government officials that are smart enough to invest in this technology," he added, to wide applause from those in attendance at the keynote address.

Hardly the tight-lipped DHS secretary of yesteryear, Ridge presented himself as the recovering Beltway veteran, able to crack jokes about the White House, seemingly inane TSA procedures and the politics of D.C. Amid his often entertaining speech, however, Ridge provided outtakes reflecting his view of the security industry. From the need for cooperation between the government and the private sector to heightened border security and a national emergency/security communications system, Ridge let loose on what mattered to him.

On his short list of hot technologies was biometrics, a developing industry of which Ridge admits he is quite fond. More than once in his 45-minute address did he place the body-science technology on a demi-pedestal. He further championed its use in the development of the Registered Traveler program, showing, it seemed that his thoughts on biometrics are shaped by the technology's potential in the DHS programs he knows so well.

"I'm a big fan of biometrics," admitted Ridge. "I think it's an enabling technology, and I think it's going to be a technology that is going to be pervasive around the country and around the world."

His theme continued with him advocating more government and private sector investment in new security technologies, adding that the government needs to embed technologies so that security and intelligence agencies can receive maximum benefit of the protection and analysis which today's newer technologies offer. Ridge stressed that over 80 percent of the nation's critical infrastructure was in the hands of private corporations. That ownership, he says, gives the private sector a duty to invest in technologies that reduce risks.

That support for security technology investment wasn't without a bit of realism.

"A lot of companies are not willing per se to invest in technology to prevent terrorism," said Ridge, who seemed acutely aware of the financial considerations for technology investments. He reminded the audience that security investments can't stand alone, and rather have to contribute to profitability or be embedded into profitability tools.

Late in his address, Ridge hinted at his concern over where the line of individual privacy and national security will be drawn.

"A lot of people say, 'I don't worry about them recording my calls because I'm not doing anything wrong,'" said Ridge, discussing recent outrage over permission for wiretaps on American citizens. "Well, I think you should [worry]. It's a question of how far government can go before it invades the privacy of citizens."

And that comment in itself seemed to sum up Ridge's internal challenge with security, giving a sense of a man still wrestling with what national security means in a free country.