DHS' new chief privacy officer gets no honeymoon

Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff has filled one of the vacancies in the department's ranks of permanent senior officials by appointing Hugo Teufel III chief privacy officer. Teufel's appointment prompted immediate criticism from privacy advocates at the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Association.

Teufel moved to the chief privacy officer job from his position as associate general counsel for DHS, where he focused on acquisition issues.

Teufel previously was associate solicitor for the Department of the Interior. He formerly worked as deputy solicitor general for the state of Colorado and as an attorney in private practice.

Teufel succeeds acting chief privacy officer Maureen Cooney, who had taken over the work from Nuala O'Connor Kelly in Sept. 2005. Kelly moved on to the chief privacy officer position at the General Electric Co.

Chertoff praised his new privacy chief, saying, "Hugo is an outstanding professional, whom I have counted on for steady judgment and sound advice as the department's associate general counsel. Hugo is highly regarded throughout the department and the legal community for his expertise on privacy, employee relations and civil rights issues."

Chertoff said he looked forward to Teufel's contributions to the task of growing a culture of privacy protection at DHS.

Teufel has been a member of the Federalist Society, an association of conservatives, since 1996 as well as chairman of the Colorado Lawyers chapter of the organization.

One of Teufel's published works showing a knowledge and inclination in the field of privacy policy is "Expanded Use of Nondisclosure Agreements an Administrative Solution to National Security Leaks," published in the Administrative Law Journal in March 1990.

National privacy organizations criticized the appointment. Marc Rotenberg, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said, "We don't think he's qualified. He lacks relevant experience in privacy policy. The two former chief privacy officers at DHS both had extensive backgrounds in privacy law. Our concern is that the chief privacy officer needs to be a forceful, independent advocate for privacy within the department and not a former deputy to a secretary.

"The record that he has left suggests that he falls on the wrong side of the issues," Rotenberg said.

Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for privacy rights at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the appointment was long overdue because the position had been filled by an acting privacy officer since last summer. "It's long overdue for the Bush administration to put someone in a permanent role."

"In a day and age when we hear about new privacy threats from the department and the administration virtually every day and every week, it is critical to have a privacy officer who can respond to the public's concern and say no when the department goes down the wrong track," Sparapani said.

The ACLU attorney said Teuful is not known in the privacy community and will have a higher burden to bear to show that he can be the most high-profile privacy officer in the federal government. "He will have to earn the confidence of the privacy community," the ACLU attorney said.

Sparapani said he hoped that Teufel's membership in the Federalist Society would indicate that the new chief privacy officer is an advocate of smaller, less intrusive government.

Teufel has faced criticism over his involvement in the firing of the National Park Service police chief over her charge that the force was underfunded. Sparapani referred to that incident, saying federal agencies should protect whistleblowers.

"Congress should ask whether Mr. Teufel's past involvement in that alleged effort [to stifle federal employees] with Ms. Chambers might prevent him from being an independent voice to check DHS privacy abuses," Sparapani said.

Teufel graduated from the Washington College of Law at American University, where he was an editor of The Administrative Law Journal, and he is currently pursuing a Master's degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the Naval War College, DHS said.

Teufel speaks German and Spanish, according to his biographical note on the Republican National Lawyers Association site.

Wilson P. Dizard III is a staff writer for Washington Technology's sister publication, Government Computer News.

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