DHS streamlining redress process for citizens

Wednesday - 12/8/2010, 7:07am EST

By Jared Serbu
Reporter
Federal News Radio

The Department of Homeland Security is in the midst of a process designed to make it easier for members of the public to access and make corrections to data held by the agency.

DHS is revamping its redress processes and it is currently undergoing interagency review. When approved, the agency will incorporate the new policy into Homeland Security's 2010 privacy report, said Mary Ellen Callahan, who serves both as the agency's chief privacy officer and its Freedom of Information Act officer.

Callahan said streamlining and centralizing the amendment process is a priority because DHS currently leads all other agencies in the raw number of Freedom of Information Act requests. It received 130,000 last year-a 30 percent increase from 2008. She added that 70 percent of the requests came from individual citizens who wanted access to their own records.

Callahan said the agency also has taken major steps to impose its own privacy constraints on the collection and use of all personal data, even as an outside group called Tuesday for tighter restrictions across the federal government on a set of practices collectively known as data mining.

"We have to make sure that DHS is using its resources appropriately," Callahan said. "With the increase of the ability to store data and so on, the inclination to want to data mine is certainly there. And I think that's true in the private sector as well."

But while the inclination to data mine may span the public and private sectors, the legal latitude to do it does not.

Callahan said that during her time as a privacy lawyer representing private clients, firms came to her wanting to collect all the data they could - and retain it for as long as possible. She said the tighter constraints on data collection and retention for agencies are a good thing because they force agencies to design data collection programs that only store and retain the data they actually need.

"What we're trying to do is implement privacy principles regardless of how we're going to use the data - whether it's specifically in the U.S. definition of data mining, or whether it's something that we would want to make sure that the public understood was going on with their data," said Callahan in an interview with Federal News Radio following the release of a new report from The Constitution Project urging new governmentwide privacy rights protections governing the use of data mining by agencies.

Some of the underpinnings of DHS' own privacy policy are a set of Fair Information Practice Principles based on the Privacy Act. The agency lists them as:

  • Transparency
  • Individual participation
  • Purpose specification
  • Data minimization
  • Use Limitation
  • Data Quality and integrity
  • Security
  • Accountability and auditing

DHS outlined the principles in a 2008 memorandum, and Callahan said the agency has incorporated them into policies since over the past two years. The Constitution Project's report also praised the principles as "rooted in Constitutional values."

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