Conservative at helm of privacy panel

Rosenzweig says he won't compromise on balancing privacy and liberty

For Paul Rosenzweig, sacrificing personal privacy for national security in the fight against terrorism just wouldn't be American.

And there's a simple reason for that. Privacy "serves as a foundation for things that are very dear to Americans: liberty, freedom, political dissent," said Rosenzweig, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

"It struck me, and it continues to strike me, that the useful thing is to construct a mechanism for a broader dialogue where we can try and break through this trade-off paradigm to an idea of how to maximize both security and liberty," he said.

His stance, if not his appearance, echoes Benjamin Franklin, who once said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

In April, Rosenzweig got the chance to carry out his vision when he was chosen to be the first chairman of the Homeland Security Department's new Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.

DHS formed the committee in February to review new technology and ensure that the tools department officials want to use will not violate civil liberties. The group reports to Nuala O'Connor Kelly, DHS' chief privacy officer, and advises DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. Its 20 participants include high-ranking privacy experts from industry, government and academia.

Committee members unanimously chose Rosenzweig to be chairman and Lisa Sotto, a New York privacy attorney, as the first vice chairwoman. The committee is having its second official meeting next week in Boston to draw up its goals and form subcommittees.

Rosenzweig sees the committee as both a DHS observer and watchdog. Its job is to make department officials' decisions transparent to the public and independently assess what DHS is and is not doing, he said.

Although the committee can't officially compel DHS to do anything, it does have a bully pulpit, Rosenzweig said. As long as the committee has the facts to back its recommendations, its high profile will encourage DHS — and Congress, the media and the public — to listen, he said.

To help DHS achieve its missions, the privacy committee must help the department integrate the information technology systems of its 22 constituent agencies, Rosenzweig said. The committee can offer constructive suggestions on how DHS can choose technologies with the best performance and privacy to distribute departmentwide.

At the committee's first meeting, Kelly said she recommended Rosenzweig and Sotto because one is a Republican, one a Democrat; one is a man, one a woman; one is from New York and one is from Washington, D.C.

Rosenzweig's appointment was controversial in liberal circles, where many expressed concerns about having a noted conservative leading the privacy committee. After all, this is the same man who gave a lecture titled "John Ashcroft is not Darth Vader: The Patriot Act: Myth and Reality," in defense of the former attorney general.

Rosenzweig also supported the research and development of the Total Information Awareness program, a proposed Defense Department data-mining project meant to spot patterns in credit card purchases and other information that could indicate a planned terrorist attack. He thought the project could work as long as it had certain safeguards, but DOD scuttled it because of criticism from privacy advocates, Congress and others.

Rosenzweig said he is conservative by nature, but also open-minded without being a pushover. He added that he has criticized the Bush administration on a variety of issues, but he doesn't see his political affiliation as important in his position.

"The discussion should be about whether or not the policies we're putting in place work," he said. "Do they have the right safeguards? If not, can we put them in? If not, what are we gaining from them? What are we losing from them? What are the costs? What are the benefits? What are the processes and structures we've adopted? That's the plane I want to have the discussion on."

Rosenzweig has been a "very important voice, especially coming from the conservative community," said Jim Dempsey, executive director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy think tank.

Through his prolific writings, Rosenzweig "has helped redefine the debate," Dempsey said. "Now, across government, throughout think tanks, you hear people talking about preserving both goals and less about the trade-off argument."

Rosenzweig's greatest challenges will be defining manageable projects and persuading committee members to put aside their corporate interests and personal perspectives to reach consensus, Dempsey said.

"I'm pretty confident that we'll be able to actually make a positive contribution," Rosenzweig said, "real recommendations for real systems that will do the real work of advancing the real security of America while preserving real liberty.

"If we can actually do that, that will be a success," he said. With a grin, he rapped his knuckles on the table. "You can add that he knocked on wood."

The Paul Rosenzweig file

Position: Rosenzweig is a senior legal research fellow specializing in civil liberties and national security at the Heritage Foundation's Center for Legal and Judicial Studies. Chairman of the Homeland Security Department's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee.

Career highlights: He opened his law office in 2000. Previously, he was senior litigation counsel in the White House's Office of the Independent Counsel and investigative counsel for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He also prosecuted environmental crimes for the Justice Department.

Education: He earned a law degree from the University of Chicago, a master's degree in chemical oceanography from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego and a bachelor's degree from Haverford College.

Family: He has been married for 12 years and has two stepchildren and five stepgrandchildren.

Hero: John Adams, because he was "willing to think outside the box."

Most notable fashion accessory: Bowtie. "In part, I like it because people ask, 'Why the bowtie?' It's sort of the most polite way of standing out without actually proclaiming too loudly that you're an iconoclast. The real thing — and the one thing that anybody who knows me will tell you — is that I march to my own drum."

Hobbies/pastimes: He has been a rugby referee for the past 20 years. "It's good, hard, clean fun, and it's totally unrelated to what I do. Then you have a beer and the people who you talk to afterwards, they want to talk about rugby."

Quote: "You know, being a referee is a lot like managing a committee. It's getting 30 players to all head in the same direction within the rules. And that's a great challenge."


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