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Democrats Call for Privacy Czar

Democrats on the U.S. House Select Committee on Homeland Security are calling for the re-establishment of a national privacy czar as part of their SHIELD Act initiative introduced Thursday.

The bill would create a chief privacy officer appointed by the president to assure that the technologies procured and used by the government "do not erode privacy protections relating to the use, collection, and disclosure of personally identifiable information."

Known as the Strengthening Homeland Innovation by Ensuring Liberty, Democracy and Privacy (SHIELD) Act, the legislation also mandates that each federal and independent agency in the executive branch appoint a senior official to assume primary responsibility for privacy policy.

"It would be a hollow victory to win the War on Terror at the cost of our own democratic values, and that's why this bill is so important -- it will keep federal agencies focused on civil liberties and ensure that law-abiding citizens' rights are respected," bill sponsor Kendrick B. Meek (D-Fla.) said in a statement.

Both Meek and bill co-sponsor Rep. Turner (D-Tex.) are members of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security. Another 25 Democrats in the House have endorsed the bill.

"We have a constitutional responsibility to provide for the common defense and to protect the freedoms and rights of Americans. By developing homeland security initiatives that are consistent with our constitutional guarantees relating to privacy and civil liberties, we can protect our country while maintaining our values," Turner said.

Democrats first raised the possibility of a national privacy czar at a congressional hearing in February. In the Clinton administration, Peter Swire, now a law professor at Ohio State University, served as "chief counselor for privacy," a position President Bush chose not to fill.

Nuala O'Connor Kelly, chief privacy officer at the Department of Homeland Security, is the highest ranking privacy official in the Bush administration. Several other agencies have privacy officers, but their duties are limited to Freedom of Information Act requests.

The legislation also provides for a national commission to study U.S. efforts to further homeland security in a manner that "protects privacy, civil liberties and individual freedoms."

In a conference call with reporters, Meek said his bill is a proactive attempt to head off "individual privacy violations" that might effect the Department of Homeland Security's policies.