Visit DHS Privacy Web Site -- Please

That’s just one of the messages delivered yesterday by Hugo Teufel III, chief privacy officer of the Department of Homeland Security, at a Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) conference in Washington.

Teufel said the privacy Web site, shows the agency is as serious about protecting privacy as it is about protecting borders. But Teufel wishes more people would visit the site; he said it may be one of the least visited federal Web sites out there.

Tuefel, who has the only privacy gig in any federal agency or department mandated by law, turns out to be a passionate advocate for privacy. DHS, Tuefel said, needs to ensure it protects privacy and civil liberties so it can succeed in its mission in combating terrorism. Teufel says this includes transparency, data minimization and accountability to make sure projects such as those that would use RFID for personal identification (like the planned Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative), don’t erode civil liberties through technology assessments such as last year’s paper on the use of RFID for human technology verification.

Teufel says he is well aware that the United States was founded by “people with a profound distrust of the government” and strives to insure that DHS policies and practices do not cause distrust today.

I admire his strong stance and position, but have to contrast it with DHS efforts to ram through the Real ID Act, which requires high-tech driver's licenses meet federal standards and which is opposed by an increasing number of states. This summer DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff told the National Conference of State Legislatures that residents of states who do not comply with the REAL ID Act by May 2008 will need to show their passports for all "federal purposes,” including, presumably, entering any federal building including local post offices.

Somehow, the thought of having to produce a passport to buy a stamp at the post office in my hometown of Las Vegas, N.M., (if New Mexico does not adopt Real ID driver's licenses) does not make me feel more secure, or that DHS really cares about privacy or that top DHS management understands citizens still have a deep distrust of government.