DHS chief privacy officer steps down

Wednesday - 8/1/2012, 5:50am EDT

By Keith BieryGolick
Special to Federal News Radio

Mary Ellen Callahan, the Department of Homeland Security's chief privacy officer and chief Freedom of Information Act Officer, stepped down Tuesday after three years of service.

"Since joining the Department of Homeland Security in March 2009, Ms. Callahan has played an instrumental role in the department's senior leadership team and earned the respect of her colleagues, while advancing two of our most cherished principles — privacy and transparency," said a DHS spokesperson in an email comment. "Through her steady leadership, rigorous privacy safeguards became the mainstay of DHS information sharing initiatives and set the standard for effective information sharing in the federal interagency community."

Mary Ellen Callahan, chief privacy officer, Department of Homeland Security

Her last official day is Aug. 11.

As chief privacy officer, Callahan tried to ensure fair handling of personal information and the integration of privacy considerations into all DHS programs, policies and procedures.

But unlike other privacy officers, Callahan had the authority to investigate department programs and operations for potential privacy violations.

In fact, she reviewed the inspector general's office and found that its contractor used an unencrypted USB drive containing confidential financial information from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Another one of her investigations led to a management directive about the operational use of social media for DHS.

Callahan testified before a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee Tuesday where she offered her perspective on the government's progress in meeting the Privacy Act.

Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) said agency officers such as Callahan have been critical to bringing attention to important privacy issues.

"So I want to thank you so much for your service and what you've brought to that particular office of people," Akaka said. "We have so much to learn from you and the experience you've had thus far. I appreciate your outstanding leadership on privacy and really wish you the best of luck in the future."

Callahan will return to the private sector to practice law, which she did at the law firm Hogan and Hartson before joining DHS. Deputy chief privacy officer Jonathan Cantor will serve as acting privacy and Freedom of Information Act officer in the interim.

Keith BieryGolick is an intern at Federal News Radio

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