But rapidly changing technology and changing national security concerns make her role as the agency’s chief privacy officer less clear-cut and “more amorphous,” she said.
“[My role] is a little more amorphous because you can certainly have policies that get at areas that are undecided in the law, where no court’s decided on this or it’s an unsettled area of law,” saidLibin. “That’s where you really have to come in and decide as a policy matter, ‘Okay there is no law that expressly prohibits this and there is no court that opined on how another law might prohibit this, so what should we do here?’”
Libin is the Chief Privacy Officer for the Department of Justice, a position she has held for two years. Unlike many other chief privacy officers, she is a political appointee. The 9/11 commission recommended that a privacy officer be installed in every agency that had counterterrorism responsibilities.
“[The positions were created] to ensure that as new policies were being proposed and legislation was being developed for agencies to implement, there was another voice in the room that would raise privacy and civil liberties issues to ensure there wasn’t overreaching and privacy issues were taken into account.”
At the Department of Justice, the mission to protect public safety sometimes means it cannot tell people what information is being collected about them, she said. However individuals have the ability to submit a statement of disagreement if they believe information about them has been wrongly collected. Part of Libin’s job is to ensure that people who have complaints get a response.
“Law enforcement doesn’t want to have inaccurate information,” she says. “It’s not in their interest to keep bad information.”
Currently she is reviewing proposals on tackling cybersecurity, a big issue the administration wants to work on. She said the challenge is to ensure cyber security while protecting privacy and civil liberties. Previous projects include helping develop standards for identifying suspicious activity associated with terrorism as part of the National Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative.
“My [role] is to ensure that there is a basis to collect the information that the information is collected properly in accordance to federal law,” she said,
Prior to becoming Justice’s chief privacy officer, she was counsel to then-Sen. Joe Biden, working with him on surveillance issues, technology policy and national security.
“The substantive issues are fascinating to me and are just changing all of the time and there are strong arguments on both sides of these issues and because it’s unsettled, it’s an interesting debate that’s going on all around us on these issues,” saidLibin.
Rapidly changing technology is one of the big privacy issues Americans face today, she said. More information is being collected about people and stored digitally, but people aren’t really paying attention to the digital trail they’re leaving behind. Data collection is different than it was 15 years ago when public records were kept but weren’t as easily accessible, she said.
“It does present a threat to our privacy, particularly given the ability of technology now to aggregate all of that information and create a big profile about us that might or might not really represent accurately who we are and what we’ve done,” she said.
Despite the potential for privacy violations as the amount of data collected continues to grow rapidly, Libin said having the data has helped law enforcement and improved national security because law enforcement can more readily detect and prevent terrorism and criminal activity.
She also said she likes the role of ensuring that data collection is done with privacy considerations in mind.
“If I personally think it’s wrong, that would be my policy judgment. There’s not something I personally think is wrong that I’m saying, ‘Oh yeah, looks great. Go do it.’ That’s kind of in some ways what’s nice about this job,” she said. “My role is to speak up and to say something if I disagree on privacy grounds.”