Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

December 11, 2008

DHS Releases Data Mining Report to Congress

Filed under: Privacy and Security,Technology for HLS — by Jonah Czerwinski on December 11, 2008

The 9/11 Commission Act included a section called The Federal Agency Data Mining Reporting Act of 2007, which requires the DHS Privacy Office, led by the Chief Privacy Officer, to report to Congress on its implementation of the Act. The Privacy Office just released its report. The new report, “Data Mining: Technology and Policy,” discusses current data mining activities, as well as those under development in the Department. It covers the following ground:

• How DHS programs satisfy the Act’s definition of “data mining”

• The Privacy Office’s public workshop, Implementing Privacy Protections in Government Data Mining (July 24-25, 2008)

• The Principles for Implementing Privacy Protections in S&T Research Projects, which are the newly-announced privacy principles, including those that involve data mining

The report focuses on three major programs:

1. Automated Targeting System (ATS) Inbound, Outbound, and Passenger modules (CBP)

2. the Data Analysis and Research for Trade Transparency System, (ICE)

3. Freight Assessment System, (TSA)

The report provides each program’s purpose and methodology, technology, legal authority, and sources of data, along with an assessment of how well the program is doing.

A challenge for the homeland security community has been the reactive nature of the privacy-related efforts undertaken. Often the Privacy Impact Assessments and other measures are conducted after a technology is developed. Many in the broader policy community and industry have begun suggesting that privacy protections be made a part of technologies, or that technologies be developed for the sole purpose of protecting privacy.

The Privacy Office’s public workshop on Implementing Privacy Protections in Government Data Mining assembled academics, government researchers, policy and technology experts, and privacy advocates this summer to discuss the privacy issues associated with government data mining. One of the outcomes of the workshop was an effort by the Privacy Office and DHS S&T to develop privacy principles that could be embedded in S&T’s research and development projects involving data mining.

This effort led to a set of Principles for Implementing Privacy Protections in S&T Research, which S&T has agreed will govern “new research performed at S&T laboratories, S&T-sponsored research conducted in cooperation with other Federal government entities, and research conducted by external performers under a contract with S&T.”

Many thanks to reader WRC for sending in the notice about this report’s release.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

December 11, 2008 @ 10:27 am

Is my memory incorrect or was a principal rationale for DHS being formed was to be the leader on all domestic intel issues, both collection and dessimination? Not sure where we stand as of the arrival of the new Administration and wonder if any information on the status of this effort is being passed to transition teams at DHS. Perhaps a clear cut set of opinions by OLC under new leadership can review all opinions todate on collection and dessimination of domestic intel and lay the ground work for transparency and guidance perhaps through a series of Executive Orders for the Executive Branch. Can only hope since privacy and intel are such difficult subjects with all their combinations and permutations. Remarkable how little in the open source literature about domestic intel except back to the so-called Church Committee in the 70’s.

Comment by Arnold

December 11, 2008 @ 11:09 am

Mr. Cumming,

Your memory is correct, but as several news reports and papers have pointed out, the bureaucratic struggles at DHS’s birth led to it essentially being neutered in that regard.

It has been reported that Ridge was shocked and dismayed when he learned of the creation of the NCTC–a role he believed DHS was to own (and he only learned of it when he saw Bush’s press conference on TV).

In addition, the small group of White House aides drawing up the initial design of DHS realized early on that they had no shot of prying the FBI out of DOJ. So essentially while people think DHS is the primary domestic counter-terrorism department, the FBI still retains statutory responsibility for investigating terrorist acts and is the primary national domestic intel agency through their JTTFs.

Absent another major attack and a renewed push for an American “MI5,” I doubt the new Administration would pick a fight over this situation. More likely to fight the FEMA battle first–and even that isn’t a sure thing in my opinion.

Comment by William R. Cumming

December 11, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

Thanks Arnold for the information. Do we think that Charles Allen will stay on in DHS after January 20th? Hope so for DHS has creds with him running INTEL!

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