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    Homeland Security’s Privacy Office Releases Annual Report

    The Department of Homeland Security’s Privacy Office has released its annual report, which covers the office’s activities between July 2009 and June 2010. It is the second annual report under Chief Privacy Officer Mary Ellen Callahan, but it is the first in which she headed the office for the entire period covered. She took office in March 2009. Of most interest to me are the details about Homeland Security searches of electronic devices (laptops, mobile phones, cameras, etc.) at the borders (here’s DHS’s Privacy Impact  Assessment (pdf) on those searches).

    For the reporting period October 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010, CBP encountered more than 168.2 million travelers at U.S. ports of entry. Of these travelers, approximately 3.7 million (2.2% of the 168.2 million travelers) were referred for secondary inspection; however, of these 3.7 million travelers, CBP conducted only 2,272 searches of electronic media during this time period. A “search” in this regard is broadly defined to include a simple request to turn the device on as a means of ensuring that it is what it purports to be. Detailed information on these searches is only available for those performed on laptops. Of the total number of searches of electronic media, only 673 searches of any type were performed on laptops – just 0.0184% of the 3.7 million travelers referred to secondary inspection. […]

    It is important to note that in the fourth quarter of FY 2009, the number of closed “process and procedure” complaints reflects 2,012 complaints received as part of a fourth quarter FY 2008 write-in campaign regarding laptop searches. The complaints sought to influence policy regarding laptop searches as opposed to individual redress. As discussed in the previous Annual Report, the complaints were identical and largely related to searches of electronic devices at the border.

    The DHS Privacy Office has made broad changes in the last year. In her message at the beginning of the report, Callahan states:

    The DHS Privacy Office continues to cultivate a true culture of privacy within the Department. Our efforts over the last year have borne significant fruit. For example, as of the close of the reporting period there are full-time, senior privacy officers in all of the operational components, and privacy officers for the National Protection and Programs Directorate and the DHS Intelligence and Analysis component, respectively, will have come on board as of this Report’s release. Developing a cadre of component privacy officers who are steeped in both the operations of their individual components and in privacy expertise multiplies the DHS Privacy Office’s ability to implement consistent privacy practices across the Department’s vast and varied operations.

    Here are a few other accomplishments highlighted in the report:

    • Approved and published 79 Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs), 31 System of Records Notices (SORNs) and entered into four Computer Matching Agreements.
    • Developed a compliance and policy framework to address the privacy issues associated with the Department’s use of social media […]
    • Coordinated the processing of approximately 160,000 FOIA requests during the most recent FOIA reporting year and worked with component leadership to ensure adequate FOIA resources were available to address both backlog and incoming FOIA requests.

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