Data protection lawyer appointed to lead DHS privacy efforts

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A lawyer specializing in data security and e-commerce law was appointed Tuesday to the chief privacy officer (CPO) position at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Mary Ellen Callahan, a partner at the Washington, D.C. law firm Hogan & Hartson where she worked with multinational companies on their security and privacy policies, also is co-chairwoman of the Online Privacy Alliance, a coalition of companies and trade associations whose mission is to promote internet privacy.

She replaces outgoing CPO Hugo Teufel III and takes the reins at the first statutorily required federal agency privacy office, considered a model for other government departments.

"Homeland security and privacy are not mutually exclusive, and having a seasoned professional like Mary Ellen on the team further ensures that privacy is built into everything we do," DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said in a statement.

Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a nonprofit public interest group, told on Thursday that she is worried Callahan's experience as a lawyer was too focused on corporations and not enough on civil liberties and consumer protection.

She said that part of the job is especially important, considering DHS is involved in many initiatives that require the safe handling of citizen data, such as the REAL ID program for nationalizing driver's licenses and the E-Verify employment eligibility verification system. In addition, many other data-intensive entities fall under DHS, such as the Transportation Security Adminstration, she said.

EPIC also was critical of former CPO Teufel's experience, but those concerns had somewhat waned when he became more open with communicating and meeting with privacy advocates, Coney said. She said she hopes Callahan adopts  a similar policy.
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