The privacy czar that ain’t

The Department of Homeland Security, as required by law, has a office that is supposed to protect the privacy of American citizens. But in a pattern that is all-too-familiar in that bloated bureaucracy, the guy running it doesn’t have a dime’s worth of experience on privacy issues.

Writes David Lazarus of The San Francisco Chronicle:

In 2002, the Department of Homeland Security became the first federal agency required by law to maintain a privacy office "whose mission is to minimize the impact on the individual’s privacy, particularly the individual’s personal information and dignity."

This is vital, of course, because Homeland Security _ the result of a merger of 22 separate federal agencies _ oversees a vast array of programs that affect the lives of millions of people, from airline travelers to foreign visitors.

So who has the Bush administration appointed as the department’s new privacy watchdog? It selected Hugo Teufel III, a Homeland Security associate general counsel with no apparent background in privacy protection.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said in a statement that Teufel "is highly regarded throughout the department and the legal community for his expertise on privacy, employee relations and civil rights issues."

But privacy advocates harshly criticized Teufel’s selection.

"He may be a great lawyer," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But he hasn’t done anything in the privacy area, at least not that we can see."

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, was equally dissatisfied with Teufel’s privacy credentials.

"I don’t think he’s qualified," Rotenberg said. "This is someone who has worked closely with the secretary. He’s unlikely to exercise the kind of independence that this office requires."

Teufel couldn’t be reached for comment.