DHS privacy officer to depart

Nuala O’Connor Kelly, the first chief privacy officer at the Homeland Security Department, announced today that she is leaving her position.

Kelly is heading to a job in the private sector at the end of this week, said Lisa Sotto, vice chairwoman of DHS' Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee. Sotto is also a partner and head of the Regulatory Privacy and Information Management Business Practice Group at Hunton and Williams, a New York law firm.

Kelly made her announcement at the advisory committee’s meeting today in Bellingham, Wash., said Valerie Smith, a DHS spokeswoman.

Kelly’s last day at DHS is Sept. 30, but she told DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff earlier this month that she would be leaving, Smith said.

Maureen Cooney, Kelly’s chief of staff, will be acting chief privacy officer until Kelly is officially replaced, Smith said. The department has not started a formal search yet, she said.

“Kelly has done tremendous work in building a privacy office for the department and creating a program that will serve it for many years into the future,” Smith said. “We are very grateful for the innovative work she has done in her position.”

Kelly is responsible for ensuring that new and existing technologies that DHS uses to protect the country do not infringe on individuals’ privacy.

She also serves as DHS' sponsor for the committee. The 20-member group of privacy experts counsels her and Chertoff on issues that affect privacy, data integrity and data interoperability.

“Kelly has done a commendable job as Homeland Security’s first chief privacy officer considering the limited independence of the job as it was created by Congress,” said Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project.

DHS should not use her departure as an excuse to weaken the position or leave it unfilled for a long time, said Timothy Sparapani, legislative counsel for the ACLU. Instead, the department should strengthen the position and make it report directly to Congress instead of the department’s secretary, he said.

Former DHS Secretary Tom Ridge appointed Kelly as the department’s first privacy officer in April 2003, a month after DHS was created.

Before joining DHS, she was chief privacy officer for emerging technologies and vice president of data protection at DoubleClick. She served as DoubleClick’s first deputy general counsel for privacy and created many of the company’s data-privacy policies.

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