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Monday, 8 April, 2002, 07:51 GMT 08:51 UK
Clinton backs tech war on terror
Former US president Bill Clinton
Clinton: Use of technology for defensive purposes
Bill Clinton has been outlining how technology can play a key role in defeating the new brand of terrorism.

The former US president said that information management systems similar to those used by the big mass mailing companies could provide an early warning about suspicious behaviour.

"More than 95% of the people that are in the United States at any given time are in the computers of companies that mail junk mail and you can look for patterns there," he told BBC World's ClickOnline.

But information security experts say that technology alone is not enough to prevent further terrorist attacks like those of 11 September.

Billions on technology

Following the attacks, the US Government has become far more aware of the potential to use technology against enemies of the state.

Attack on the World Trade Center
Attacks shocked America and the world
President Bush's proposed budget for 2003 sets aside billions of dollars for homeland defence.

More than $50bn alone is being allocated to government information technology.

With one eye on this money, corporations in recent months have inundated the Office of Homeland Security with proposals about how their technology could help fight terror.

The most common idea being promoted by companies is a better analysis and collection of information system for law enforcement agencies across the US.

One company even suggested that its customer relationship management system could have prevented the 11 September attacks.

Targeting terrorists

Former President Clinton sees a role for this kind of technology in fighting terror.

Proposed 2003 spending
$52bn on government information technology
$2.4bn on anti-bioterrorism research
$4.8bn on airport security
"A big part of dealing with this terrorist threat will be maximising the use of technology for defensive purposes," he said.

"Does someone with a Visa have 10 addresses? If they do, they are either really rich or up to no good," he said.

"Has someone that the CIA has alerted you to come into your country and are they living in a place that's different from what they told you? If so, it ought to be checked out."

Fragments of data

Experts agree that technology has a role to play in protecting the US from terror attacks, but, they warn, much depends how that technology is used in practice.

Dr Ruth David is a security expert
Dr David: Need to share information
"It's not a matter of technology. The technologies are available," said Dr Ruth David, president of Anser, an independent research institution in the US.

"It's a matter of knowing what information is relevant and what to share. We're a long way away from having the problem solved," she told the BBC programme Go Digital.

In the aftermath of 11 September, it emerged that various government agencies had information that could have helped prevent the attacks.

But the problem was that the data were spread over different bodies and different computer systems.

"A piece of data in isolation may mean absolutely nothing, but put together with other fragments of data, it may suddenly paint a picture," explained Dr Ruth.

"But if different individuals have the fragments and they never put them together, then we will never paint that picture."

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Bill Clinton on ClickOnline
How technology can fight terro
See also:

10 Oct 01 | Americas
12 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
20 Sep 01 | Americas
25 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
21 Sep 01 | Science/Nature
26 Oct 01 | Americas
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