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New federal security rules irk business

Wed., Jan. 7, 2009

Policies give broad authority to chart planes, cargo

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security will collect millions of new electronic records about private planes, imported cargo, foreign visitors and federal contractors as part of an array of controversial last-minute security policies imposed by the Bush administration.

Businesses say the policies are costly and worry that sensitive information could be released if a database is lost or stolen. Some charge the Homeland Security Department with rushing to impose policies and ignoring business concerns.

“Industry keeps reaching out to (them), but our comments are continually dismissed,” said Catherine Robinson, director of high-tech trade policy for the National Association of Manufacturers trade group, which represents 14,000 companies.

Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said that by collecting information electronically, the department can run security checks more quickly than with paper forms and could flag people or cargo that should be barred from the United States. Some changes have been in the works for more than a year.

So far there’s been a lot of opposition. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and four other groups have sued to block a policy requiring federal contractors to send information about employees electronically to the department to verify that they can work legally in the United States.

The policy takes effect Jan. 15 and applies to employees working on a federal contract worth more than $100,000.

Businesses worry that the department’s online system, which some employers now use voluntarily, incorrectly lists legal citizens as ineligible to work, Chamber vice president Randel Johnson said. The chamber wanted more tests before 170,000 federal contractors were forced to use the system.

On Tuesday, Ed Bolen, CEO of the National Business Aviation Association, criticized as “overly broad” several proposed security rules for 15,000 private jets, such as barring dangerous items from the passenger cabin. The rules, which aren’t final yet, would require private-jet passengers to be checked against terrorist watch lists.

Companies fear that their business strategies could be compromised if their flight information leaks out, association vice president Douglas Carr said. “I don’t think there’s a clear, demonstrated ability to secure this data,” Carr said.

The Homeland Security department has eased some proposals. Dozens of companies and associations protested a plan that would require them starting Jan. 26 to submit detailed information about imported cargo 24 hours before it is loaded on a ship in a foreign port.

Robinson of the manufacturers association said the administration agreed to ease some of the data requirements and to reconsider the policy after June 1. “It’s still onerous, but it’s definitely better than where we started,” Robinson said.

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