DHS sets privacy rules for mobile apps

The guidelines require DHS mobile apps to have a privacy policy that is accessible to users before and after installation of the app.

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The Department of Homeland Security has issued privacy guidelines for mobile applications developed by or for the department. The new guidelines require DHS mobile apps to have an easily accessible privacy policy both before and after installation of the app.

The policy, which is dated March 30 and signed by DHS Chief Privacy Officer Karen Neuman, also requires program managers to notify a privacy official and the Office of the CIO before developing a mobile app, whether for internal use or for the public. For example, DHS is working on an Apple iOS app that would allow mobile access by employers to the E-Verify system.

Specifically, developers must run their apps through the DHS "Carwash," an OCIO service that scans and tests source code and offers lifecycle management for apps. Before the app can be deployed, results of the source-code scans should be reviewed by Neuman to see if appropriate privacy protections are in place.

DHS mobile apps cannot collect personally identifiable information like a Social Security number "unless directly needed to achieve a DHS mission purpose," the document states. And such needs must be justified, and program managers must maintain PII collected through the program in keeping with approved records-retention policy.

User information submitted through a DHS mobile app must be encrypted in transit and "immediately transferred to a protected internal DHS system that is compliant with existing DHS IT security policy," according to the guidelines.

These are baseline privacy requirements -- additional protections may be needed for individual apps, the policy states.

The DHS Privacy Office is the "first statutorily required privacy office in any federal agency," according to its website. A recent privacy assessment reviewed by the office found that DHS' cyberthreat information-sharing program risked sweeping up unrelated PII.

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