- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The acting chief of the Transportation Security Administration told lawmakers yesterday that he will appoint a privacy officer and an external privacy oversight board to answer criticism about CAPPS II, the agency’s computerized passenger-threat profiling system still in development.

David M. Stone said the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, which will use public, commercial databases to verify travelers’ identities and assign them a threat rating, has been criticized by privacy and civil liberties advocates. It also has faced a tough sell in Congress.

Last year, lawmakers wrote language into several bills barring any funding for the program until a series of privacy, civil liberty and effectiveness goals were met. A report last month by congressional auditors found CAPPS II had met only one of those targets.

Frustrated lawmakers vented at Mr. Stone.

“We keep being told, ‘CAPPS II is coming, CAPPS II is coming,’” said Rep. John L. Mica, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure aviation subcommittee, pointing out that no date has been set to begin testing the system.

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., New Jersey Democrat, echoed the views of many subcommittee members when he said that the agency needs “to do a much better job of assuring the American people that CAPPS II is not Big Brother.”

Mr. Stone said such reassurances would come from an appointed privacy officer and an external privacy oversight panel, which also would “result in an improvement in our privacy practice and compliance.”

Nuala O’Connor Kelly, the Department of Homeland Security privacy officer, said she was “thrilled” by the move.

Miss Kelly, seen as a tough advocate for privacy rights, said the appointment would bring the fourth specialist privacy officer to the department. The officers report to senior officials within their divisions or programs, but they also report to Miss Kelly.

She said this duality is “the hardest thing about being a privacy officer: You have to be both inside and outside. You have to be a part of the team, to be involved in all the policy discussions at the highest levels, but at the same time you have to be ready to make constructive criticisms when they’re necessary.”

One senior administration official said the agency had been under pressure to add the privacy protections for more than a year.

Privacy specialists cautioned that the oversight board, to be truly effective and independent, would need to include people willing to challenge and question the agency.

“They ought to include persistent critics of the program,” said one longtime privacy professional who asked not to be named. “If they’re all ex-TSA employees, that will be a danger sign.”

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