Dems argue for privacy officers

House Select Committee on Homeland Security

House Democrats introduced a bill today that would create a governmentwide chief privacy officer position and privacy officer jobs in every federal department.

The Strengthening Homeland Innovation by Ensuring Liberty, Democracy and Privacy Act, or SHIELD Privacy Act was introduced by Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) and Rep. Jim Turner (D-Texas), members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. The bill would create an appointed position in the Office of Management and Budget to coordinate federal privacy policies. The bill would also set up a Commission on Privacy, Freedom and Homeland Security to examine privacy issues related to the government's anti-terrorism efforts.

"As we move forth in the time of terrorism, it's important that we have, at the highest level, a privacy officer in each agency to make sure we are not violating the privacy of Americans," Meek said during a call with reporters. "The federal government has been struggling with this issue, and that is one reason why we are resurfacing this. We hope and pray that we will see a change here in making sure that there are not outstanding accounts of individual privacy being violated."

The governmentwide privacy chief would be responsible for evaluating technologies, Privacy Act compliance and proposals relating to the collection and use of personal information. The person would submit an annual report to Congress on privacy issues and Privacy Impact Assessment rules and oversight.

Meek said this bill would proactively head off any major privacy violations or problems. "We don't need to wait until we have a mountain of examples of individual privacy violations that will affect the Department of Homeland Security's efforts on terrorism," he said.

The desire for a governmentwide privacy czar and individual agency chiefs was raised at a February House committee hearing. However, some privacy advocates argued that chief privacy officers aren't needed at agencies that don't deal much with personal data.

"I don't believe it would create more bureaucracy," Meek said today, responding to questions about such criticism. "DHS is the largest agency on face of the earth and communicates with many agencies. When policy decisions are being made, if we see...that there are agencies that might not need a privacy officer we can roll back at that particular time on it."

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