The climate for personal privacy in Washington, D.C. hasn’t been this chilly since the days when J. Edgar Hoover wore pumps. However, there are recent signs the Feds are at least acknowledging the increased threat to privacy, even if they’re not doing much to stop it.

In February 2005, the Department of Homeland Security announced the formation of a Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee to consult on “issues that affect privacy, data integrity, and data interoperability in DHS programs.” But the 20-member board has drawn criticism for being composed largely of corporate executives, including D. Reed Freeman, chief privacy officer for Claria (makers of the controversial Gator adware application). Many longtime privacy advocates were shut out.

Committee member Jim Harper, director of information policy studies for the Cato Institute and editor of Privacilla (http://www.privacilla.org), believes the panel will spur the DHS to think harder about privacy issues. And, he adds, “it will give me and others a microphone and an opportunity to quit loudly if DHS disregards privacy.”

In March 2005, the DHS issued a report on its ill-fated Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-screening System II (CAPPS II) in which the agency’s Inspector General acknowledged a host of shoddy privacy practices. Among the highlights: the Transportation Safety Agency (TSA) failed to obtain confidentiality agreements with some companies with whom it shared data, and/or failed to enforce ...

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