Justice could get privacy boss

The Justice Department may soon have a new privacy officer to make sure technology does not invade the privacy of the average citizen, privacy advocates said today.

The House Judiciary Committee passed the department's reauthorization bill late last month that includes the creation of a senior privacy officer, much like the position created last year for the Homeland Security Department.

"The Judiciary Committee recognized that a statutory privacy officer, with the credibility that Congressional creation brings is part of the answer to the deep public concern about privacy even as the government responds to terrorism and other concerns," said James Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

A few agencies have privacy officers appointed informally, however the DHS position is the only one required by law. The Internal Revenue Service has a privacy advocate, and the U.S. Postal Service has a chief privacy officer to prevent unauthorized tampering with the mail.

The Justice Department officer would monitor a wide range of issues, including the collection of information about individuals in connection with potential terrorist activities. In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, federal officials have sought new ways to gather information in an effort to prevent a terrorist act. But privacy advocates, such as Dempsey, fear the overzealous collection of personal information would violate an individual's privacy rights.

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