Keeping it private at DHS

Privacy advocates interested in Secure Flight and other Homeland Security Department screening programs say the incoming secretary at DHS must form a good relationship with the agency's chief privacy officer, Nuala O'Connor Kelly.

Kelly has had a good rapport with Tom Ridge, outgoing DHS secretary, said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "The significance of that office will depend on her relationship with the new secretary," said Dempsey, speaking today at a security and privacy workshop at the Commerce Department. The American Bar Association sponsored the workshop.

Today, President Bush announced Michael Chertoff, a federal appeals court judge, as his nominee for DHS secretary.

DHS program officials generally support the chief privacy officer because the department's image matters, said Rebecca Richards, director of privacy compliance at DHS, who also spoke at the workshop. "It's important that we maintain our reputation with citizens, with the public," she said.

Program officials have another reason not to ignore privacy concerns, Richards said. DHS' chief privacy officer can stop funding for any information collection systems that violate privacy laws and policies.

Completing mandatory privacy impact assessments on new systems for collecting personal information gives a chief privacy officer and program officials an opportunity to negotiate fair information principles, Dempsey said.

In that process, he said, they think deeply about what they are trying to accomplish, and the result is a better program.

It is worth noting, Dempsey said, that program officials for Secure Flight treat that program's privacy impact assessment "as one of their defining documents."

The government is lagging the private sector in hiring chief information officers, Dempsey said. But that could soon change.

The 2005 ominbus spending bill calls for all federal agencies to appoint chief privacy officers, a mandate for which Office of Management and Budget officials are working on implementation policies, he said.

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