Stewart Baker’s accusations (See SDN’s story: Are privacy groups making Americans less safe?) that civil libertarian groups prevented government agencies from implementing adequate screening technology are neither accurate nor does it hold the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies accountable.
Since September 11, the federal government has taken several massive measures in the interest of aviation security. Steps taken by the federal government, including the establishment of the Transportation Security Administration, have been no easy task. There is no doubt that we are better served by aviation security measures today than prior to 9/11. Some of these measures, however, can seem to erode privacy and civil liberties, and civil libertarian groups have the Constitutional right to speak against these measures. Mr. Baker should remember when he was first appointed Assistant Secretary for Policy at the Department of Homeland Security, though, the agency did not have a required mechanism to determine whether or not proposed technologies impacted privacy and civil liberties. Henceforth, civil libertarian groups were left to evaluate and protest these practices from afar.
The Chairman is right that the privacy lobby has a constitutional right to say what it likes. So do I. In particular, I can hold them for responsible for what their advocacy has achieved, including some very real harms to our security.
Where I don’t agree with the Chairman is the notion that the privacy community was somehow driven to irresponsibility by DHS’s lack of “a required mechanism to determine whether or not proposed technologies impacted privacy and civil liberties.” While I served there, DHS was the only cabinet department with both a legislatively mandated privacy officer and a legislatively mandated civil rights and civil liberties officer. But that didn’t make the privacy lobby more responsible in dealing with DHS. If anything, it made the lobby more aggressive. Maybe they scented weakness. Indeed, legislative mandates creating special-purpose advocacy offices and requiring DHS to consider only one side of the privacy-security balance are likely to end in the Department giving too much weight to that side of the scale, at a cost in security that none of us wants to pay.