Homeland Security creates privacy advisory committee

The Homeland Security Department is establishing a new committee that will provide advice and guidance on key privacy issues, a senior official said Monday.

The committee is not being created in response to any particular incident, but will tackle controversial subjects such as personal information sharing between the government and private companies, said DHS Chief Privacy Officer Nuala O'Connor Kelly. The committee will advise her office and DHS Secretary Tom Ridge on issues affecting individual privacy, data sharing and interoperability.

"I think a huge goal of my office is to bring in outside concerns and have them heard in a conversational manner by the department," O'Connor Kelly said. "I think it's going to be a good chance for outside groups to see what the department is really doing, and it will be an opportunity for this department to learn from outside groups on these issues."

DHS announced the creation of the group--called the Data Integrity, Privacy and Interoperability Advisory Committee--in an April 9 Federal Register notice.

The committee will be composed of at least 12 volunteer members from companies, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions, along with an executive director. O'Connor Kelly said she hopes the committee will begin meeting by September or October. Members will be appointed by Ridge. O'Connor Kelly will choose the executive director.

DHS is accepting applications from experts in the fields of data protection, privacy, interoperability and emerging technologies. More than 100 applications already have been submitted, O'Connor Kelly said.

O'Connor Kelly said she established the committee in an effort to "foster conversations about the responsible uses of technology." She said the committee will address specific efforts like the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology program, as well as broader subjects such as biotechnology.

The committee will make recommendations on issues such as limiting the re-dissemination of information so it is not used for unauthorized purposes; ensuring the security and confidentiality of information; protecting the constitutional and statutory rights of individuals; ensuring the timely removal and destruction of obsolete or wrong names and information; and monitoring the use of data between DHS systems and other federal, state and local systems, according to a draft description of the group.

In particular, the committee will provide advice on privacy protocols for the department's electronic data systems, and recommend conditions to protect the use of information by the department.

The committee's estimated annual operating cost is $100,000.

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