DHS privacy czar seeks additional investigators

The Homeland Security Department's Privacy Office needs to hire additional investigators to conduct assessments of government information networks, its chief told lawmakers Wednesday.

Hugo Teufel told members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security that a budget increase is necessary to add employees, but he did not specify the number of workers needed. In addition to the investigators, the office needs more people to handle Freedom of Information Act requests, he said.

The privacy office received about $4.4 million for this fiscal year; Teufel is seeking $5.1 million for fiscal 2008 -- an increase of 16 percent.

The hearing also covered the department's Analysis, Dissemination, Visualization, Insight and Semantic Enhancement data mining program, which will analyze information from intelligence networks to investigate people with potential terrorism ties.

Lawmakers and Government Accountability Office officials said the program should be subject to a formal privacy impact assessment. They criticized Teufel's office for failing to consider the program's potential privacy infringements. But Teufel defended the program, known as ADVISE, saying that it is too early to conduct a privacy impact analysis.

"Until that tool is used … the analysis would not be necessary," Teufel said, adding that "we are doing an investigation" and the report will be completed soon.

Linda Koontz, director of information management at GAO, told lawmakers that DHS may violate the 2002 E-Government Act by failing to conduct the analysis. Department officials may have mistakenly believed that the program was exempt because it did not use people's personal information, she said. ADVISE links, however, to other information networks that do use such data.

"Because privacy has not been assessed and mitigating controls had not been implemented," Koontz said, "costly and potentially duplicative retrofitting" might be needed to make ADVISE compliant with the act.

The discussion of the program came on the heels of a GAO report that criticized it.

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the subcommittee, asked Teufel if the Privacy Office is "mining data without a clear hypothesis."

Teufel said the investigation of the program will conclude shortly, but he did not commit to conducting an immediate privacy assessment, as GAO recommended.

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