Committee To Inform Homeland Security On Privacy Issues - InformationWeek
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Committee To Inform Homeland Security On Privacy Issues

The committee's greatest challenge will be helping the department as a whole focus on preserving individual freedoms while tightening security, and doing this in a public way.

A new group of public- and private-sector leaders in academia, business, and technology met Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to help the Homeland Security Department gain a greater understanding of how IT can be used to fight terrorism without exposing personal data to theft or abuse. The department's Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee launched with a statement of mission and the selection of its inaugural chairman and vice chairwoman.

To this point, there's been a sense that Homeland Security didn't visibly weigh the consequences of tightened security on the liberties that define the United States, said Paul Rosenzweig, the committee's new chairman and a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that publishes research on domestic, economic, foreign, and defense policy. The committee's greatest challenge will be helping the department as a whole focus on preserving individual freedoms while tightening security, and doing this in a public way, he said, adding, that he and his group will have to "take what we learn and figure out how to advance the ball."

Vice chairwoman Lisa Sotto revealed a more personal perspective in her goals for the committee. "For me, our national security will never be a political issue," said Sotto, partner and head of law firm Hunton & Williams LLP's regulatory, privacy, and information-management practice group. Sotto, whose brother-in-law died in the World Trade Center on 9/11, added, "We can have security without surrendering our privacy."

The committee will serve to inform Homeland Security about privacy concerns related to all of the department's various agencies and directorates, which protect the nation's borders, waterways, and critical infrastructure. It's been a monumental challenge, and the department's efforts have been criticized by government agencies and privacy advocates alike for not properly defining how gathered data would be used.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report last week that, while the Homeland Security Department's Transportation Security Administration is making progress in developing and testing its Secure Flight program, Secure Flight needs a lot more work before it can become operational. Secure Flight's objective is to identify airline passengers who should undergo additional security scrutiny, in place of the prescreening currently conducted by air carriers themselves. GAO recommended that Homeland Security more clearly develop Secure Flight test plans, privacy and redress requirements, and program cost estimates.

Of course, efforts to create the Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee were already under way before the GAO weighed in on Secure Flight, and few in government would dispute the valuable role that IT plays in securing the nation. Still, "government has to make sure that information is accurate and secure," said Rep. Bennie Thompson, R-Miss., during his opening remarks before the committee Wednesday.

Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the House's Committee on Homeland Security, added, "It's imperative that this data be protected during its creation, transmission, and storage."

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