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Senators plan shakeup of spy agencies

Response to 9/11 Commission is big on biometrics and information sharing in the intelligence community.

A bill introduced Tuesday in response to the 9/11 Commission's recent report would embrace biometric IDs, force drivers' licenses to be standardized, and undertake the monumental task of making sure that the computers used in U.S. spy agencies can talk to each other.

The legislation, sponsored by senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., represents a sweeping reorganization of the agencies engaged in intelligence activity and would create a new post of national intelligence director.

"Congress must act with dispatch to carefully consider the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and to enact needed changes to further secure our homeland," McCain said. "We continue to confront grave threats, and there is no greater priority than ensuring the safety of our country."

The 281-page bill is lengthy and complex. Some of its sections would:

•  "Centralize" the controversial no-fly and automatic-selectee lists, which are designed to weed out suspicious air travelers, in an attempt to create a more accurate terrorist watch list.

•  Require that all state drivers' licenses and ID cards follow a wealth of standards to be set by the federal government, including a rule that licenses must sport "a digital photograph or other unique identifier." Federal agencies won't be allowed to honor ID cards that don't follow those regulations.

•  Create an "automated biometric entry and exit data system" to track certain immigrants and visa holders. The system would be intended to link "all databases and data systems" maintained by federal agencies with authority over immigration.

•  Establish an "integrated screening" computer system that would be used to verify the identities of anyone who wishes to access certain government buildings, privately owned "critical infrastructure," and transportation systems such as rail or air.

•  Set minimum anticounterfeiting standards for birth certificates. Two years after the bill becomes law, federal agencies would be prohibited from accepting birth certificates that did not adhere to those standards.

Some of the most far-reaching reforms cover the way federal agencies will share data, including through computer networks. The bill orders the president to create an "information sharing network" to swap data between "all relevant" federal and state agencies as well as the private sector.

The chief information officer of what would become the National Intelligence Authority would be responsible for the monumental task of creating an "enterprise architecture for the intelligence community."

Among the requirements: that agencies have "direct and continuous electronic access" to all relevant information, including classified information; that "duplicate information technology" is eliminated; and that standards would be developed that would "apply throughout the intelligence community."

The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday expressed concerns about some of the bill's sections.

Federal standards for drivers' licenses would become "a bureaucratic back-door attempt to create a national ID card system and a serious threat to privacy, liberty and safety," the ACLU said in a statement. "Racial, religious or ethnic profiling, and illegal discrimination could increase, and failure to carry an ID would become an added pretext for the unwarranted search, detention and arrest of minorities."

McCain and Lieberman say they hope to persuade the Senate to approve some version of their bill by early October.