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Ridge: Terrorist Threats Spur Tech

NEW YORK -- Former U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Ridge said today ongoing terrorist threats would continue to drive science and technology innovation in the United States and in the process make a better and stronger country.

In a keynote address before more than 300 attendees of the InfoSecurity Conference here, Ridge said collaboration between business and government, especially in emerging areas such as biometric technology or radio-frequency identification (RFID), would stimulate the economy while helping form national security strategies.

"In the process of dealing with these realities, we will become a better and stronger country," he said of the government's efforts to stay a step ahead of terrorist threats and the technical advances it brings.

Ridge, who was sworn in as the first Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief on Oct. 8, 2001, was charged with developing and coordinating a comprehensive national strategy to strengthen protections against terrorist threats or attacks in the United States.

"We all know how resistant the world is to change," Ridge said, referring to the task he undertook shortly after Sept. 11.

While integrating multiple government agencies, managing 180,000 employees and merging 22 separate departments under a unified system was a monumental task, Ridge said knowing how to manage risk was the first step in implementing an overall strategy. The same fundamentals that are applied to any organization, he said.

The former secretary also spoke of the realities of security, in both business and in the physical sense, that the U.S. has found itself dealing with.

As an increase in real-world applications for emergency technology and with the government's need to counteract advancing threats, Ridge continued to link both private and public sectors.

"When it comes to developing code, developing software to solve some of our cyber-security problems, the intellectual mass is not in government, it is in your world -- the private-sector world," he said.

Ridge, who left his job as DHS chief in February, ushered the department through several pilot programs involving technologies developed outside the government.

The RFID pilot programs, including programs that use tags to secure shipping containers from tampering, and those that use both RFID and biometrics to track workers entering secure airport facilities, are an example of both industry and government developing technologies the can have mutually beneficial applications.

He told attendees that RFID technologies protect Americans from terrorism, as well as goods coming across U.S. borders from abroad.

"How we go about inspecting those trucks, [crossing borders] developing security protocols at the borders, is critical to our ability to keep commerce going and people working," he said. "That [RFID] technology will facilitate commerce, not reduce it."

Ridge is on the board of directors of Savi Technology, a leading RFID solutions provider based in Silicon Valley.

Ridge also predicted the nation was gradually moving toward a national identification card and called for the integration of the capabilities of state and local government and the private sector to speed its implementation.

"Proper use of biometrics preserves privacy; it does not invade privacy," he said. "You've been giving biometric information all your lives."

In fact, the move seems imminent, as the U.S. State Department announced recently that Americans holding U.S. passports issued after October 2006 will carry embedded radio frequency identification chips inside the documents.