Lieberman accuses DHS of violating E-Gov Act

Lieberman accuses DHS of violating E-Gov Act

The ranking member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee has charged that the Homeland Security Department broke the law by not conducting and publicizing a privacy impact assessment for the U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology System.

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) today sent a letter to DHS secretary Tom Ridge asking him to explain why the department is going forward with the program before it finishes the privacy assessment.

Homeland Security has been testing US Visit, which collects travelers' fingerprints for tracking their entry into the country and exit from it, at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport since Nov. 17. The agency plans to implement the first version of the system at 113 airports and 14 seaports nationwide in early January [See GCN coverage from Nov. 14 at ].

The E-Government Act of 2002--and Office of Management and Budget regulations--requires agencies to conduct privacy impact assessments in the planning stages of a project.

"The PIA must be conducted before the agency develops or procures information technology for the program," Lieberman wrote in his letter to Ridge. "If this assessment is not conducted until the system is on the verge of becoming operational, the PIA becomes a pro forma exercise. After hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in the deployment of the next phase of US Visit, it seems highly unlikely that agency officials would reconsider the system's design or configuration on the eve of deployment."

Lieberman said conducting a privacy assessment "reassures the public that new technologies have not been developed at the expense of privacy safeguards."

DHS has been working on a privacy impact assessment, but has not completed it.

Lieberman asked Ridge to explain:

  • Why an impact assessment was not finished before the technologies were purchased

  • What the consequences of this omission are

  • When the assessment will be released

  • How the department will respond to any privacy concerns identified during the process

  • What DHS will do to ensure that the future privacy assessments will be completed in a timely manner.

This is the fourth time since June that US Visit has come under fire from lawmakers. Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, earlier this month sent a letter to Ridge and secretary of State Colin Powell asking for specifics of the project's IT plan and the coordination between DHS and State. [See GCN Coverage from Dec. 1

The General Accounting Office also has released two reports detailing its concerns about US Visit.


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