Open meetings planned for Homeland Security's privacy panel

The Homeland Security Department on Wednesday unveiled the 20 members it has picked to form a privacy advisory committee.

The committee will advise the department on how to protect people's privacy at the same time as the department develops surveillance technologies designed to protect the nation against terrorists.

The Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee will include well-known experts in the world of privacy policy. The group includes legal scholars at think tanks, professors, a former consumer-protection official at the FTC, a member of the Markle Task Force for National Security in the Information Age, and the chief privacy officer from the database company Oracle, as well as privacy officers from other large corporations.

The group will meet quarterly, and the meetings primarily will be open to the public, said Nuala O'Connor Kelly, the department's chief privacy officer. The first meeting is scheduled for April 6 in Washington and will be open.

Kelly said the committee was formed as part of a process to ensure that the public is informed as Homeland Security explores the use of new technologies. "I'm optimistic that we'll see specific policy recommendations to the department ... for the responsible use of data," she said.

Specifically, she expects the committee to address "high-level policy issues" such as the rules that should govern the practice of government access to and use of private-sector databases to collect information on individuals. "The data-usage issue could be split into a number of worthwhile reports," Kelly said.

She said the reports could include recommendations on how the government can safeguard privacy as it shares information about people among departments, as well as recommendations on government access to private-sector data.

The panel also will study identity-management issues related to the use of biometric data. Radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags are another "huge issue," Kelly said, because Homeland Security is widely testing the use of such tags to track the movement of people and goods.

For example, the department is testing the placement of RFID tags on passenger luggage in order to make sure bags loaded onto airplanes are actually traveling with their owners, she said. And the US-VISIT program to track foreign visitors is testing the use of the tags for cars that make frequent trips across the border. The goal is to make the process quicker and more efficient.

Among others, the privacy advisers will include: Joseph Alhadeff, Oracle's chief privacy officer; Howard Beales, a former director of the FTC's Consumer Protection Bureau; Jim Harper, the editor and executive director of and director of information policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute; David Hoffman, Intel's privacy director; Joanne McNabb, who heads the privacy office at the California Consumer Affairs Department; and Paul Rosenzweig, a senior legal research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

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