Homeland Security panel picks controversial chief

Privacy board picks conservative lawyer known for championing the Pentagon's former Total Information Awareness project.

Declan McCullagh Former Senior Writer
Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.
Declan McCullagh
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WASHINGTON--A federal privacy board on Wednesday appointed a prominent champion of government data-mining as its first chairman.

Paul Rosenzweig
Paul Rosenzweig
The Department of Homeland Security's privacy board chose as its chairman Paul Rosenzweig, a conservative lawyer best known in technology circles for his defense of the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness project. Bowing to privacy concerns, Congress pulled the plug on the program two years ago.

Nuala O'Connor Kelly, the department's chief privacy officer, nominated Rosenzweig for the job during the group's first meeting in a downtown hotel here. Rosenzweig is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department trial attorney.

"Constructive criticism from the bully pulpit to which we've been advanced here can serve as a positive tool to the department," Rosenzweig said during the meeting, which drew more than 100 audience members. Lisa Sotto, a partner at the New York law firm of Hunton and Williams, was appointed vice chairman.

The privacy advisory board has already raised eyebrows when an executive from "adware" company Claria (formerly called Gator) was selected as a member in February. The group is charged with providing advice "programmatic, policy, operational and technological issues that affect privacy, data integrity and data interoperability."

"I don't really regard Paul as a privacy advocate," said Lee Tien, a lawyer with the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco. "I think he's much more focused on whatever homeland security mission there is. He tends to view privacy as something to be circumvented."

When Congress was considering whether to eliminate Total Information Awareness, Rosenzweig had urged members to keep it. An advocacy paper he co-authored at the time said "development of TIA can and should continue" as long as it included additional congressional oversight.

Created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the project sought to identify terrorists by vacuuming in data including e-mail and phone records to credit card transactions and travel documents. The project was in its early stages of development and was not being used by federal police. Before Congress killed it, the Pentagon tried to save the program by renaming it Terrorist Information Awareness.