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Democrats' Bill Combines Homeland Security And Civil Liberties

The bill, known as the Shield Privacy Act, aims to protect liberties and privacy while improving national security.

House Democrats on Thursday introduced the Strengthening Homeland Innovation by Emphasizing Liberty, Democracy, and Privacy Act, known as the Shield Privacy Act. The bill aims to improve homeland security while protecting civil liberties.

"It's about protecting the individual rights of all Americans--life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," Rep. Kendrick Meek, D-Fla., a member of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, said in a conference call with the media. "While we're pursuing [the security of our nation], it's important that we take into account the impact on our fundamental freedoms. We're trying to be proactive in heading off major privacy violations by the government that all Americans support through their tax dollars."

The Shield Privacy Act would create a presidentially appointed "privacy czar" in the Office of Management and Budget to coordinate federal privacy policies. It would also create chief privacy officers within other federal and independent agencies. Finally, it would set up a Commission on Privacy, Freedom, and Homeland Security to study U.S. efforts to advance homeland security in a manner that protects privacy, civil liberties, and individual freedoms.

The commission, to last 24 months, would be charged with reporting on how agencies are assessing, and should assess, the privacy implications of new homeland-security technologies prior to deployment. It will also review and make recommendations on how the government uses individual personal information from commercial databases and lists.

"As it relates to technology, we're having a lot of problems in dealing with the privacy issue," Meek said. "This will send an even stronger signal to Silicon Valley, and to the private sector, that the federal government [values] individual privacy." He said he hopes the commission would offer technology companies some guidance as to how best to respect privacy in their products.

While Meek observed that privacy is an issue that both Republicans and Democrats care about, the 25 co-sponsors of the bill so far are uniformly from the Democratic side of the aisle. "As we continue to talk about this legislation and talk about the importance of privacy," Meek said, "I'm pretty sure that members of the Republican side will take part in it."

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