Overdue, Scaled-Down Homeland Security Privacy Report Urges Improvements To Passenger-Screening Program

Nov 28, 2006 (03:11 PM EST)

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The Department of Homeland Security released its long overdue annual privacy report last week. The annual report covers two years.

The department condensed its privacy-related efforts and concerns from July 2004 through July 2006 into 38 pages. The report to the U.S. Congress covers airline security and airline watch lists, border security and identification requirements, information sharing between departments, the use of biometrics, data mining, and the Real ID Act.

By contrast, the last published report covered the department's activities for just over a year, from April 2003 through June 2004. With 11 appendixes that included charts showing the number of information requests and other specifics, like detailed privacy impact assessments of federal programs, it ran 112 pages long.

The most recent report consists mainly of an overview citing participation in hearings, workshops, and references to other reports. It covers a period during which DHS had three chief privacy officers. The first officer, Nuala O'Connor Kelly, left office in September 2005, soon after stating that the report was almost complete. Then acting officer Maureen Cooney left in July 2006, to be replaced by Hugo Teufel III.

Teufel said in an introductory letter that the report was "substantially complete" when the O'Connor Kelly left. He said Cooney decided to merge a subsequent report, which also was "substantially complete," with the earlier one covering 2004 and 2005.

The report said the Transportation Security Administration changed its Secure Flight program without the required public notification. It said the TSA collected commercial data on people without prior notice and DHS has "strongly urged the TSA to establish a more robust redress program."

Secure Flight is a passenger pre-screening program in which the TSA and airlines share information for comparison against watch lists. Redress is required for passengers who are improperly flagged.