U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff addressed lawyers Thursday at a conference on national security in Washington. VOA's Sean Maroney attended the conference and reports on the U.S. government's efforts to increase security and protect individual privacy.
Secretary Chertoff was the keynote speaker for the American Bar Association's 16th annual national security conference. At the event, Chertoff outlined several measures the Department of Homeland Security is pursuing in order to protect national security in the 21st century.
One new initiative is to require citizens to show passports when entering the United States from within the Western Hemisphere. This will be required for all air travelers starting this January. Passports will be required for land and sea travelers in January 2008.
Chertoff says requiring passports will cut back on the thousands of identification documents currently allowed that are easier to counterfeit.
"It will increase the privacy protection rather than damage it. It will have zero, or virtually zero, impact on civil liberties, and it will be something that can be done cost effectively and can be done with minimal disruption," he said.
Chertoff also says the Homeland Security Department is working on a secure system that will identify foreign travelers headed for the United States. He says this will allow U.S. officials to authorize travelers' entry - before they even get on a plane.
"The net result will be making the country more welcoming to people who we want to bring in and less welcoming to people that we want to stay out," he said.
Chertoff adds that during the next two years, U.S. officials will also be able to check all 10 fingerprints - instead of only two - of foreign visitors entering the United States.
Chertoff says all of these steps are necessary after the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. But he stresses that protecting the country does not mean sacrificing liberty for security.
"My commitment and part of what we're trying to build in this department is a disciplined, balanced approach that manages risk by always asking the question 'what is the security benefit, and what is the cost in terms of liberty, privacy and expense?' and then makes the cost/benefit determination that I think all of us think is the right way to make policy," he said.
Chertoff says this fine line in policy making actually enhances freedoms and personal liberties.