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Tech Industry

Homeland Security hires new privacy chief

Hugo Teufel III becomes the agency's second permanent officer in the role since Congress created it in 2002.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Friday tapped one of its own lawyers to become its next privacy chief.

Hugo Teufel III had been serving as an associate general counsel for the department. Before that, he was an associate solicitor at the Department of the Interior, the deputy solicitor general for the state of Colorado, and an attorney in private practice.

"Hugo is highly regarded throughout the department and the legal community for his expertise on privacy, employee relations and civil rights issues," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement, adding that the appointee has earned his "complete confidence and support."

Congress created the chief privacy officer position in 2002 with the intent of making it a watchdog over the intersection of new technologies and federal security activities.

Teufel will become the third person--and second permanent appointee--to fill those shoes. He replaces acting Chief Privacy Officer Maureen Cooney, who plans in September to start as a senior policy adviser for global privacy strategies at Hunton & Williams, a New York City law firm.

Cooney took over last fall after the resignation of Nuala O'Connor Kelly, who became the agency's first chief privacy officer in April 2003 amid controversy over government-sponsored data mining including secretive plans for a new airline passenger screening program.

O'Connor Kelly brought direct privacy office experience to the role, as she had served as chief privacy officer for the U.S. Department of Commerce and had helped to craft privacy protection polices for DoubleClick, the online media services company. She drew praise from civil liberties advocates upon her departure for a top privacy position at General Electric.

But the chief privacy officer position as a whole has generated head-scratching among privacy advocates for the apparently limited independence it enjoys.

For example, because the position was created to report to the Homeland Security secretary and not to Congress, certain items, such as the chief's privacy reports about agency activities, first had to be cleared by the department's top official. According to internal DHS documents obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the office also has found itself hamstrung at times by limited investigatory powers.