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Privacy expert resigns to focus on security

Last month's terrorist attacks prompt well-known privacy watchdog Richard Smith to leave his post at the Privacy Foundation to become a consultant on security issues.

Well-known privacy watchdog Richard Smith said Wednesday that he is leaving his post at the Privacy Foundation to research security issues following the Sept. 11 attacks, one sign of the country's shifting focus from protecting privacy to ensuring safety.

A veteran computer programmer, Smith will leave his position as chief technology officer at the Denver-based Privacy Foundation to become an independent consultant. Smith gained prominence early in the Net economy boom for revealing potentially harmful tracking technologies within software programs and operating systems, including high-profile privacy flaws at RealNetworks and Microsoft.

Smith plans to research issues related to Internet security and biometrics technologies, including the effectiveness of facial-scanning technology installed at airports and the possible threat of cyberterrorism.

"I want to work with organizations and the government to help make good decisions on security systems that were installing following" the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Smith said.

"We're getting ready to spend tens of billions of dollars a year in homeland defense and some of that is going to be toward technology; and I want to make sure that money is spent wisely," he added.

The move comes after the Bush administration approved funding to bolster U.S. security and enacted anti-terrorism legislation to prevent future terrorist attacks, including widening government surveillance powers over the Internet. As the public calls for increased safety measures following the terrorist attacks, an earlier emphasis on protecting civil liberties has waned, shifting priorities for many privacy advocates.

"Most citizens have put privacy concerns on the back burner," Smith said. "For the privacy community, Sept. 11 has clearly changed things. It's shifted people's focus to what the government is doing from what the private sector is doing."

The Privacy Foundation will maintain its technical research under the direction of David Martin of Boston University.