Justice may get privacy officer, more data-sharing

The House Judiciary Committee has cleared a version of H.R. 3402, the Justice Department authorization bill for fiscal 2006, that includes provisions for a privacy officer under the attorney general for the first time and for improved federal data-sharing with state and local law-enforcement agencies.

Section 305 of the draft legislation calls for the attorney general to designate a privacy official, who would not require confirmation by the Senate. The privacy officer would be responsible for 'assuring that the use of technologies sustain, and do not erode, privacy protections relating to the use, collection and disclosure of personally identifiable information,' and other tasks, according to the text of the draft bill.

Section 206 of the draft legislation would order the FBI director to upgrade the 'accuracy, quality, timeliness, immediate accessibility and integration of state criminal history and related records,' according to the bill. It would also direct Justice to 'facilitate state participation in national records and information systems.'

State law-enforcement agencies now have indirect access to some federal law-enforcement databases, but do not routinely have direct access to all the systems. State officials who participate in interagency crime-fighting task forces, such as High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area groups and Joint Terrorism Task Forces, can access federal information with the help of their Justice Department and FBI colleagues.

The committee's version of the bill must be approved by the full House and the Senate before it becomes law.

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