'Security Technology Still Faces Liability Risks Abroad'

July 7, 2008 - 7:23 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Legislation intended to protect U.S. security firms from litigation in the event of a terror attack is a gift from the government to the private sector, a Department of Homeland Security official said on Wednesday.

The Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies (SAFETY) Act -- which Congress passed as part of the Homeland Security Act in 2002 -- provides "risk management" and "litigation management" protections for companies that sell anti-terrorism technologies, the Department of Homeland Security said.

If a terror attack were to happen despite the deployment of anti-terrorism devices or systems, the law would shield security companies from claims that might later arise.

Companies selling anti-terrorism technology who wish to be awarded SAFETY Act protections must formally apply to the Department of Homeland Security, which will decide if that company is eligible for SAFETY Act designation or certification.

(Of the nearly 14,000 security firms nationwide, fewer than 10 have SAFETY Act Certification and Designation, according to Day & Zimmermann Security Services, a company that received SAFETY Act Certification this week.)

The law is "an incredible present from the administration and the Congress to the Department of Homeland Security and also to the manufacturers, the innovators, the economic engine in America that is working so hard to provide solutions [for] counter-terror efforts," a Bush administration official said at a briefing at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

According to Jay Cohen, undersecretary for science and technology at DHS, "The SAFETY Act has had a significant impact on improving the nation's anti-terrorism capabilities, readiness, and by extension, the safety of the United States."

Cohen said 144 technologies, covering "a very broad spectrum of security devices," have been approved. Those technologies include detection systems, sensors, screening services, detectors, software, threat assessment services and blast mitigation materials, according to a DHS document.

Raymond Biagini, an attorney with McKenna, Long and Aldridge -- a law firm that defends government contractors -- said the law's purpose was to encourage American and foreign companies to invest in, develop and deploy anti-terror technologies.

But more needs to be done, Biagini added.

"Some companies are saying they aren't going to deploy internationally because of the liability concerns," he said, noting that the law cannot protect companies from being sued for injuries abroad. This may deter them from investing in new technologies.

"Right now companies, if they go through the process here in the U.S., they will fall under the protection that's in place," said Rudolph Cohen, a director at Raytheon and a member of the Homeland Security and Defense Business Council.

The same would not apply in the European Union, he said.

Rudolph Cohen believes terrorists will attack again. "We have to be prepared for that. We have to try to mitigate it. We have to try to make it so that they are spread far enough apart that they are not happening all the time," he added.

Brian Finch, an attorney with Dickstein Shapiro LLP, defended the law as it stands, saying that Congress and industry should be cautious in raising concerns.

"When considering the SAFETY Act, we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good," he said.

"There is always room for improvement," said Finch, "But the department has done an awfully good job when it comes to the SAFETY Act."

"We need to be careful how we couch our recommendations for improvement because there is a tendency to make issues that are good for improvement seem overwhelming and [that] can undermine all the good things the department has done," he said.

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