- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

The Homeland Security Department’s new privacy officer says he hopes to avert civil-liberty outcries by using his agency contacts to get involved with programs before problems arise.

Critics of Hugo Teufel, the fledgling agency’s third privacy officer in as many years, however, are concerned his many connections to key players will interfere with him doing his job properly.

Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said his concern is that Mr. Teufel has worked too closely with Secretary Michael Chertoff, which could hamper his independence.

“He’s got his work cut out for him; it’s a huge job,” said Mr. Sparapani, citing the privacy implications of government surveillance cameras and a proposed employment-verification system that would contain data on all workers.

The worker-verification system would “gather enormous amounts of data in a government database that would determine whether people can earn a paycheck,” Mr. Sparapani said. “This is a heavy-duty privacy question that requires the work to be done in the front-end, not the back-end of the project.”

Homeland Security is the only Cabinet department that has a privacy officer mandated by Congress.

In his first newspaper interview since his July 21 appointment, Mr. Teufel said there is only one way to silence the critics — do his job.

“By working hard and showing that privacy matters,” he said. “By doing the right thing and by making sure this department understands the importance of privacy, and that it does the right thing when it comes to privacy.”

Mr. Teufel got a running start on his first day grappling with a security breach in the Citizenship and Immigration Services, where an employee posted Social Security numbers and compensation levels on an internal Internet site.

Reducing the backlog of more than 100,000 Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests also will be a challenge.

“There’s a lot here to do,” he said.

Civil-liberty advocates on both sides of the political aisle have criticized numerous Homeland Security initiatives for infringing on privacy.

Using his two years of experience as the department’s general counsel, and knowing who’s in charge of what, Mr. Teufel said he wants to get the privacy office involved in programs as they are being developed.

Mr. Teufel was called to Capitol Hill last week by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and ranking House Homeland Security committee member, to explain why he released sensitive information to the panel for its investigation over a non-bid contract with a limousine service.

Included in the documents sent to the committee from Mr. Teufel’s office when he served as general counsel were the contract employee names, Social Security numbers and driver’s license numbers.

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