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Critics Question Impartiality of Panel Studying Privacy Rights

One Cendant subsidiary, airline-reservation system Galileo International Inc., joined several airlines in providing the Transportation Security Administration with customer data for testing passenger-screening programs.

Also represented is International Business Machines Corp., which recently purchased SRD, a private firm whose software specializes in looking across multiple databases to verify identity. IBM also has a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to help test its Secure Flight passenger-screening system.

_____In Today's Post_____
FTC Head Stresses Data Security (The Washington Post, Mar 11, 2005)
_____Essential Background_____
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)

"We have the best representation possible given the applicant pool," Kelly said. Her office received 139 applications, which she pared down and submitted for final approval by the department's former secretary Tom Ridge.

"These people bring a variety of different viewpoints," she said. "This is not just the usual suspects, and that is as it should be. Homeland security should not just be about Washington policy thinkers."

The board's first meeting will be next month, at which it will begin to identify which projects it wants to take on.

Kelly said the panel also includes privacy-rights advocates and cited as an example the presence of Tara Lemmey, a former head of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Lance J. Hoffman, a computer science professor at George Washington University.

Also on the board are James W. Harper of the Cato Institute, who, according to his Web site, focuses on privacy "from a free-market, pro-technology perspective," and Joanne McNabb, who heads the Office of Privacy Protection for the state of California.

Many of the corporate members of the board are responsible for their companies' privacy initiatives.

"Who better to educate DHS than people in industry" who confront privacy issues regularly, Kelly asked.

As for the potential conflicts of interest that might arise with board members whose companies do business with the agency, Kelly said the members are representing themselves, not their companies.

Privacy and security advocates said there should be a strong public voice to balance those in the information business. They noted that database brokers and other companies have extensive records on virtually every adult in the United States, and those records are regularly bought and sold with little oversight. Moreover, the government is increasingly turning to the private sector for such information to help strengthen national security.

"I don't get it," said Bruce Schneier, who writes books on security and is founder and chief technical officer of Counterpane Internet Security Inc., a computer-security company. Compared with a similar advisory group he is on for the Secure Flight program, "this just looks like a bunch of corporate flaks," he said.

Schneier said the privacy board reminds him of a Food and Drug Administration panel that recently recommended restoring certain drugs to the marketplace after concerns were raised about their safety. Some members of the FDA board have financial ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Ari Schwartz, associate director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital-rights advocacy group, said the board lacked privacy advocates who are focused on the commercial sector's use of personal information, as opposed to that of the government. Schwartz said the center's executive director applied to be on the board but was rejected.

Freeman of Claria, who was hired to help that company change some of its practices, said criticism of his participation on the board has been disappointing.

"You can imagine my frustration," he said. "I can't imagine a circumstance where an issue that would be before our committee would create a conflict as it relates to my private employment." If one did arise, he said, he would either recuse himself from that issue or resign from the board.


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