- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 16, 2002

The authors of the homeland-security bill pending in Congress defended their legislation yesterday against spirited protests that it would enable the government to snoop on American citizens. They said the bill contains adequate provisions to protect privacy rights.

Sponsors of the legislation, which will be taken up in the Senate for final passage next week, said it contains specific provisions that the proposed department may not gather information in contravention of constitutional and statutory privacy protections.

"No other department in the United States government has a statutorily created privacy officer, as this Homeland Security agency would have," said Leslie Phillips, spokeswoman for Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee. "We created a stronger privacy officer than would exist anywhere else in government, with strong new powers to ensure that technologies are used to sustain and not to erode privacy protections."

Nevertheless, some critics were not convinced. Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican and a former U.S. attorney, said he still believes the bill, combined with fears of terrorism in the wake of the September 11 attacks, could lead to abuse.

"It may very well be technically correct that the homeland-security bill does not explicitly authorize such a move," he said. "My fear is that government has become so proactive in this regard that they will use some of the general language in this bill to accelerate the process under the guise of homeland security."

Richard Diamond, spokesman for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, Texas Republican and the chairman of the special committee that wrote the House version of the bill, and Miss Phillips said the bill has specific protections for privacy, including a privacy officer whose job will be to monitor the new department and make sure it doesn't intrude on privacy rights. The officer reports to Congress, which has final oversight.

Mr. Diamond said sponsorship of the legislation otherwise would have contradicted Mr. Armey's long record on privacy. "Mr. Armey has been praised by both people on the left and on the right for the privacy provisions in the homeland-security bill, and that includes groups like the [American Civil Liberties Union] and the incoming minority leader, [Rep.] Nancy Pelosi, on the House floor, congratulating Mr. Armey for these privacy provisions."

He noted that Mr. Armey was responsible for language in the bill eliminating Operation TIPS (Terrorism Information and Prevention System), proposed by the Bush administration, that would have enlisted mail carriers, utility meter-readers and others with access to private homes to report suspicious activities of their neighbors and clients. He also put in language to prohibit the government from requiring Americans to carry national identification cards.

However, language such as Mr. Armey wrote eliminating TIPS is apparently not included in the homeland-security legislation.

The defense of the legislation yesterday followed objections by a considerable number of privacy advocates who say the bill opens the way for government snooping and, in particular, would lead to an agency tasked with compiling an electronic profile of foreigners and American citizens alike, based on existing information from driver's licenses, e-mail, Internet purchases, telephone and bank records, passport applications and other surveillance data, even including toll-road payments.

The homeland-security legislation passed the House earlier this week with broad bipartisan support. But the bill still has privacy advocates worried about what powers the federal government may try to construe from the bill's language.

In particular, they fear the creation of a Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency or HSARPA, in the alphabet-soup language of the bureaucracy. The program is designed to administer a grant program for research and development of homeland-security technology, such as sensors, to detect a chemical-weapons attack and methods to make computers more secure from cyber-attacks.

HSARPA's structure is modeled on the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a part of the Defense Department that has generally won approval for its efficiency and success in promoting research and development. DARPA was instrumental in creating the groundwork for the Internet. But one project apparently funded by DARPA, is the Total Information Awareness project, which critics say could create a computerized profile of the intimate details of a citizen's private life. This program would be under the supervision of Adm. John Poindexter, the national-security director under President Reagan who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra episode.

Privacy advocates worry that something similar and aimed at Americans could emerge from the legislation under the guise of homeland security.

Mr. Lieberman's spokeswoman discounts this prospect. She said there is "absolutely nothing in this legislation that ties it to DARPA's Total Information Awareness project." David Goldston, chief of staff for the House Science Committee, which helped write the HSARPA part of the bill, said it deals entirely with the "nuts-and-bolts" operation of funding technological research and would be placed in a different directorate from the information-gathering parts of the bill.

Mr. Diamond said Mr. Armey is concerned about the Total Information Awareness project and even though Mr. Armey is retiring this year, he will urge the next Congress to look closely at it. "Mr. Armey will encourage the next Congress to look into this Department of Defense program," Mr. Diamond said. "If it indeed does raise the same privacy problems that Operation TIPS does, Congress should deal with it in the same way by banning it."

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