September 19, 2007

Hugo Teufel III
Chief Privacy Officer
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC   20528.

            Re:  Privacy Act of 1974: Implementation of Exemptions
                   Office of the Secretary, Department of Homeland Security.
                   Notice of proposed rulemaking.
                   Docket Number:  DHS-2007-0050

Dear Mr. Teufel:

    In the August 22, 2007, Federal Register, 72 F.R. 46922, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposes to exempt certain systems of records from subsection (e)(1) of the Privacy Act.  Subsection (e)(1) of the Privacy Act requires that:

Each agency that maintains a system of records shall -- maintain in its records only such information about an individual as is relevant and necessary to accomplish a purpose of the agency required to be accomplished by statute or Executive order of the President.
    5 U.S.C. 552a(e)(1)

DHS proposes to exempt itself from this requirement stating that:

    (c) [Exemption] From subsection (e)(1) (Relevancy and
    Necessity of Information) because in the
    course of investigations into potential
    violations of Federal law, the accuracy of
    information obtained or introduced
    occasionally may be unclear, or the
    information may not be strictly relevant or
    necessary to a specific investigation. In the
    interests of effective law enforcement, it is
    appropriate to retain all information that may
    aid in establishing patterns of unlawful
    72 F.R. 46922 (August 22, 2007)

However, DHS provides no rationale for its position that the "interests of effective law enforcement" requires that information be kept in an individual's files even though 'the accuracy of the information obtained or introduced my be unclear, or the information my not be strictly relevant."  In fact, quite the opposite appears to be true.  Effective law enforcement requires accurate and relevant information on individuals be kept.  Inaccurate and irrelevant information encourages law enforcement to proceed on faulty information, go off on tangents, and perhaps falsely target innocent individuals.  How inaccurate and irrelevant information may aid in establishing patterns of unlawful activity as DHS maintains is not self evident.  In fact, inaccurate and irrelevant information would appear to impede, not help, in the establishment of such patterns.

Inaccurate information and irrelevant information kept on individuals in a system of records can work to bring those individuals under false suspicion and could lead to other far reaching harmful consequences dependent on who has access to the system.  It is because of these dangers that the Privacy Act was enacted in the first place. 

Absent some kind of concrete justifications or, at a minimum, examples illustrating why this action should be taken, there does not appear to be any reason for this exemption.  It would appear to lead to less effective law enforcement and have potentially far reaching deleterious effects on the individuals who are the subjects of inaccurate and irrelevant information.


                                                                            Andrew M. Strojny
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