Event: House Homeland Security Committee roundtables on privacy, civil rights, & civil liberties at DHS

  • When:  Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008
  • Where: 311 Cannon House Office Building, Washington D.C.
  • Time:  9:00 am – 4:00 pm

On Wednesday, December 3rd, the Majority Staff of the House Committee on Homeland Security will host a series of roundtable discussions on the future of privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties at DHS.  The event, entitled “A Path Forward: Constitutional Protections in Homeland Security”, is sponsored by Rep. Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  Experts from the public sector will give their views on the focus the Department should take in dealing with privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties during the new Administration.  There will be a total of six panels:

  • 9am – The Road Ahead: Protecting Civil Liberties in a Natural Disaster
  • 10am – A New Direction:  Privacy Implications in Datamining
  • 11am – The Way Forward: Privacy and Domestic Intelligence & Information Sharing
  • 1pm – The Advancing Lane: Transportation Security & Privacy and Civil Liberties
  • 2pm – The Changing Course:  Privacy, Civil Liberties, and the Border
  • 3pm – A Progressive Dimension: Cybersecurity and Privacy

GAO report on NAO disputes Chertoff claims of compliance

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released its full public report on the status of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Applications Office (NAO) compliance with current legal, privacy and civil liberties standards.

On April 9, 2008, in a letter to Members of Congress, DHS secretary Michael Chertoff certified that the NAO complies with all existing laws, including all applicable privacy and civil liberties standards. The Secretary also provided a charter for the office, privacy and civil liberties impact assessments, and NAO standard operating procedures.

The GAO report disputes that claim of full compliance.

Bush administration disregards reporting law

From the New York Times:

The Bush administration has informed Congress that it is bypassing a law intended to forbid political interference with reports to lawmakers by DHS. The August 2007 law requires the DHS chief privacy officer to report each year about Homeland Security activities that affect privacy, and requires that the reports be submitted directly to Congress “without any prior comment or amendment” by superiors at DHS or the White House.

But newly disclosed documents show that the Justice Department issued a legal opinion last January questioning the basis for that restriction, and that DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff later advised Congress that the administration would not “apply this provision strictly” because it infringed on the President’s powers.

Several members of Congress reacted with outrage to the administration’s claim, which was detailed in a memorandum posted this week on the Web site of the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department.

DHS privacy chief highlights privacy improvements

From DHS Leadership Journal:

Hugo Teufel, DHS Chief Privacy Officer, announces the release of the fourth annual DHS Privacy Office Annual Report to Congress, which covers the reporting period from July 2007 – July 2008, and reviews some of the improvements in DHS privacy efforts in the last year, and ongoing.

President signs bill turning military spy satellites on U.S.

An appropriations bill signed by President Bush last week allows the controversial National Applications Office (NAO) to begin operating a stringently limited version of a program which would turn military spy satellites on the United States, sharing imagery with other federal, state, and local government agencies.

Both Congress and the GAO have expressed concern that the practice may be in violation of some laws and may be used for spying on U.S. Citizens.

Bill would limit homeland security laptop searches

The Homeland Security Department has declared its right to seize laptops at the U.S. border indefinitely, and the 9th Circuit court upheld their right to do so, but the Travelers Privacy Protection Act introduced Thursday is intended to curb that power.

The legislation would require DHS to form reasonable suspicion of illegal activity before searching electronic devices carried by U.S. residents. The DHS would also be required to provide probable cause and a warrant or court order to hold such a device for more than 24 hours. The bill also limits what information acquired through electronic searches the DHS can disclose, and it requires the department to report on its border searches to Congress.


  • Although I’ve heard several arguments that the laptop policy only extends the powers CBP agents have to search all items and documents brought into the U.S., others argue that the extent of searches currently allowed by DHS exceeds traditional protections in all areas (not just laptops).
  • The newly introduced bill offers protection only for information on electronic media – physical documents and other belongings are not protected.
  • The newly introduced bill only offers protection for citizens and legal residents of the U.S. – foreign visitors are not protected.