Congressman calls for more privacy authority at DHS

Congress should provide the Homeland Security Department's chief privacy officer with more independence and authority so the office can perform its duties adequately without political pressure, according to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), who is the senior Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee.

Privacy advocates have criticized the lack of authority granted to Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly under the Homeland Security Act of 2002. The concern is that the office does not have all the legal authority it needs to compel release of information and to conduct investigations of alleged violations.

"The chief privacy officer needs the independence and adequate authority to properly evaluate the privacy concerns of the department, outside political pressures," Thompson said.

"Our assurance that the Department of Homeland Security is doing all it can to protect our nation's privacy sits with its chief privacy officer. She is the person responsible for ensuring that the department builds privacy into its programs at the onset and that it continues to be considered during implementation," he said.

Thompson said he offered an amendment to legislation authorizing the department last week to increase the privacy officer's authority, but it was voted down along party lines.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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