Ashcroft promises privacy chief

Electronic Privacy Information Center

Amid increasing concerns about how law enforcement officials are using technology to monitor citizens, Attorney General John Ashcroft told privacy advocates that he will name a Justice Department official to spearhead privacy issues.

Ashcroft made the pledge during a meeting with privacy advocates last week. Those who attended the meeting, which covered a range of issues, said the comment about Justice's privacy advocate was made almost in passing.

David Sobel, general counsel for the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, noted that former Attorney General Janet Reno had staff members who specialized in privacy issues. "Whether this is going to be something more, that's not clear," he said.

Another person who attended the meeting said Ashcroft's comments about the privacy advocate stemmed from a request by the privacy advocates for regular meetings with the attorney general and his staff.

"His response was that he was going to be having this privacy person within DOJ," the person said, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He wasn't going to commit to us."

Justice officials did not return calls seeking comment.

Privacy advocates also have been pushing the Bush administration to name a privacy czar similar to the post created under the Clinton administration and held by Peter Swire.

Also at the Wednesday meeting, Ashcroft did not provide any indication about how soon he would make a decision on the future of the Carnivore e-mail scanning program, but Sobel said it is clear that the controversial system is still under consideration.

Carnivore, which the FBI has renamed DCS1000, enables agents to scan e-mail in an effort to capture messages to or from a suspect. It can be installed, with a court order, on an Internet service provider's system. Privacy advocates have argued that it is too invasive and could result in spying on law-abiding citizens.

About the Author

Christopher J. Dorobek is the co-anchor of Federal News Radio’s afternoon drive program, The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, and the founder, publisher and editor of the DorobekInsider.com, a leading blog for the Federal IT community.

Dorobek joined Federal News Radio in 2008 with 16 years of experience covering government issues with an emphasis on government information technology. Prior to joining Federal News Radio, Dorobek was editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week, the leading news magazine for government IT decision-makers and the flagship of the 1105 Government Information Group portfolio of publications. As editor-in-chief, Dorobek served as a member of the senior leadership team at 1105 Government Information Group, providing daily editorial direction and management for FCW magazine, FCW.com, Government Health IT and its other editorial products.

Dorobek joined FCW in 2001 as a senior reporter and assumed increasing responsibilities, becoming managing editor and executive editor before being named editor-in-chief in 2006. Prior to joining FCW, Dorobek was a technology reporter at PlanetGov.com, one of the first online community centers for current and former government employees. He also spent five years at Government Computer News, another leading industry publication, covering a variety of federal IT-related issues.

Dorobek is a frequent speaker on issues involving the government IT industry, and has appeared as a frequent contributor to NewsChannel 8’s Federal News Today program. He began his career as a reporter at the Foster’s Daily Democrat, a daily newspaper in Dover, N.H. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California. He lives in Washington, DC.


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