Even before recent security breaches exposed private data about millions of consumers, the Department of Homeland Security was assembling a public board to recommend how to best safeguard privacy, as the agency makes use of growing stores of information collected about U.S. citizens.
But the 20-member panel has angered security and privacy-rights advocates who charge that it is tilted toward the industries that profit most from gathering, using and selling personal information, often to the government.
When Your Identity Is Their Commodity (The Washington Post, Mar 6, 2005)
ChoicePoint Data Cache Became a Powder Keg (The Washington Post, Mar 5, 2005)
Databases Called Lax With Personal Information (The Washington Post, Feb 25, 2005)
ChoicePoint Victims Have Work Ahead (The Washington Post, Feb 23, 2005)
ID Data Conned From Firm (The Washington Post, Feb 17, 2005)
In Age of Security, Firm Mines Wealth Of Personal Data (The Washington Post, Jan 20, 2005)
Two of the members work for database-marketing companies, while two others work for think tanks that receive funding from the industry. Other members represent the insurance, airline-reservation, technology-research and database-software industries. At least two members are from companies with Homeland Security contracts.
Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer at the department and organizer of the board, defended the composition, saying the agency wanted to bring top industry, academic and consumer-oriented expertise to the task. But others worried about the balance of views.
"The slant [of the board] wasn't, from the get-go, to have a really, really strong privacy focus," said Lee Tien, a senior counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a privacy-rights group.
Tien said his group did not apply for board representation because the agency recommended that members submit to security clearance checks, which he viewed as antithetical to the mission of a board that is focused on privacy.
Perhaps the most controversial appointment is D. Reed Freeman Jr., a Washington lawyer who is chief privacy officer of Claria Corp. Previously known as the Gator Corp., the California company was notorious for its software system for tracking online user behavior and displaying pop-up advertising on Web sites, which sparked lawsuits by media and other companies, including The Washington Post.
The firm settled the suits, changed its name and no longer serves pop-up ads without the permission of Web site operators.
But Claria remains a lightning rod for suspicion in privacy circles for its ability to gather information about the Internet-surfing and buying habits of users who receive its software, although the data collected does not identify individual users. Claria's software comes bundled with other applications, such as the Kazaa file-sharing program.
Another board member, Samuel Wright, is the chief lobbyist for Cendant Corp., a consumer-services conglomerate that owns marketing firms, Avis and Budget rental car companies, hotels such as Days Inn and Ramada and real estate brokerages Century 21 and Sotheby's International Realty.