Security efforts could revive high-tech industry

By Don Thompson The Associated Press
Thursday November 29, 2001

ROSEVILLE — The nation’s preoccupation with security after this fall’s terrorist attacks could help revive the hard-hit high technology industry, experts from top tech firms said Wednesday. 

From communications to data sharing to airport security, they expect to see a surge in sales as governments, businesses and individuals try to screen out or respond to terrorists without invading the rights of law-abiding citizens. 

The defense, aerospace and high-tech industries all are likely to see a rebound, predicted Robert Smiley, an economic development expert and graduate school dean at the University of California, Davis. 

This war hits closer to home than any fought on American soil in generations, and is forcing a massive response to a threat that until Sept. 11 was generally perceived as safely isolated overseas, said Peter Hambuch, an expert in public safety security technology for Motorola Corp. 

“Nine-eleven has been a driving force to people to sit down and review these things,” Hambuch said. 

Once, police were satisfied if they could communicate within their own department, he said. 

Now they may have to coordinate with other local and federal agencies, even the military, if they want to avoid the communication chaos that haunted the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, or efforts to quell the devastating fires that swept the hills above Oakland a decade ago. 

Tragic as the World Trade Center collapse was, most businesses housed there survived even if many of their employees died, said Grant Easton, a data security and disaster recovery expert for Hewlett-Packard. 

That’s largely because they’d had a “rehearsal” during the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 and learned to plan for catastrophe, Easton said. Now, businesses, governments and emergency workers nationwide are realizing they, too, need backup computer and communication centers. 

Employees are scared to travel, or find long lines at airports make it too inconvenient, said Melissa Carlson, an expert in personnel and technology at Cirrus Logic Inc. She expects a surge in telecommuting and teleconferencing as a result, with a corresponding push for high speed computers and Internet connections. 

Former FBI terrorism expert George Vinson said government and businesses must take steps against cyber-terrorists he predicted will try to disrupt the nation’s communications and computer networks, taking their cue from the United State’s high-tech campaign to render Iraq “deaf and blind” during the Persian Gulf War a decade ago. 

Vinson, who now is California’s director of homeland security, also said the California Highway Patrol is investigating massive scanners it hopes could be used to screen entire semitrailers for hidden nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. 

And he said the nation needs a new and more tamperproof way of authenticating individuals’ identities, as evidenced by the recent ease with which terrorists and criminals have engaged in identity theft. 

Such technology can make commercial air travel safer while trimming the long lines caused by individual hand searches, Vinson said. 

Biometrics likely is one answer, he said: machines that scan the individual characteristics of a face, fingerprint or iris to make a positive identification. Some airlines already are looking at using biometrics to create identification cards that travelers could voluntarily use to speed the screening process. 

But data-sharing and biometrics technology such as the face recognition scanners newly installed at Fresno Yosemite Airport create their own concerns for individual’s rights and privacy, he and the other experts acknowledged. 

They spoke at an American Electronics Association meeting at Roseville’s Hewlett-Packard campus, one of 18 such meetings nationwide intended to generate high-tech solutions or policy changes that can be forwarded to the federal government.