DHS set to release privacy report today

Says annual privacy assessment isn't delayed; it's out six weeks earlier than last year

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is set to present its annual privacy report to Congress today.

The mandated report will provide a "detailed and comprehensive look" at the activities of the DHS privacy office between July 2008 and June 2009, according to a spokeswoman for the agency.

The release of the report comes just two days after DHS Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan was publicly pressed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) to explain what the privacy rights group called a delay in completing the report.

In the registered letter sent to Callahan on Tuesday, EPIC said that it had been more than a year since the release of the last DHS privacy report. The group said it sent the letter because the report was "significantly tardy enough" to justify prodding the DHS with a reminder. A copy of the letter was sent to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.

The DHS spokeswoman said the report is being sent to the committee on schedule, and that its release was not sped up because of the EPIC letter.

The DHS spokeswoman also disputed EPIC's contention that the report was late, noting that the 2009 report is being released earlier than last year's was. "The previous report wasn't sent to [Congress] until November. We are six weeks earlier this year," she said.

The spokeswoman said the early release was especially noteworthy considering that the new administration just took office this year and that Callahan only assumed her post in April. Also, she said, while the DHS is required to prepare the report for Congress, "there is no statutory deadline for the report."

The DHS has been publishing an annual privacy report since 2003 to chronicle how its activities impact privacy. The report is supposed to help Congress measure whether the agency is meeting constitutional requirements for privacy and civil liberties.

The DHS is involved in several projects that are closely watched by privacy groups such as EPIC. Those projects 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.

In addition, 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 all being closely followed by privacy groups.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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