Group seeks answers from DHS on delay of privacy report

Last report released more than year ago, EPIC says

A privacy rights group is pressing the U.S Department of Homeland Security to disclose when it plans to release its annual privacy report to Congress.

In a certified letter to the DHS's chief privacy officer, Mary Ellen Callahan, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) on Tuesday noted that the department's last privacy report was released more than a year ago, in July 2008. "As it has been over a year since the publication of the last report, we would like to know when the current report, concerning the activities of your office, will be made available to the public," the letter states.

The letter also pointed out that Callahan is obligated by law to prepare an annual report to Congress detailing activities at the agency that have an impact on privacy. That report also needs to detail complaints of privacy violations, steps taken to implement the Privacy Act of 1974, and internal privacy controls within the DHS, the letter states. A copy of EPIC's letter was sent to the chairman and the ranking member of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security.

Lillie Coney, EPIC's associate director, said the DHS privacy report is "significantly tardy enough" to merit sending the letter to agency. "We'd like to know what the agency has been doing regarding privacy," Coney said. EPIC needs to be sure that the DHS's privacy officer is sufficiently focused on her obligation to release the report in a timely fashion, Coney said.

The annual report, which has been issued since 2003, is supposed to chronicle the privacy issues that the DHS is focused on and show whether the agency is fulfilling its constitutional obligations for privacy and civil liberties, Coney said. "It gives us an idea of the way the DHS has been prioritizing privacy issues and what resources it has made available" to address the issues, she added.

The DHS could not be immediately reached for comment.

This is not the first time EPIC has pressed the DHS to release its reports in a timely fashion. The group sent a similar letter to the DHS last year after the 2008 report was delayed.

As one of the largest federal agencies, the DHS is involved in several projects that privacy groups such as EPIC keep a close eye on. Examples include Einstein 2.0, a network monitoring technology that improves the ability of federal agencies to detect and respond to threats, and the Real ID identity credentialing initiative. The DHS's terror watch list program, its numerous data mining projects, the secure flight initiative, the proposed use of body imaging technologies and its searches of electronic devices at U.S. borders are also all being closely followed by privacy groups.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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