DHS privacy chief: Is he qualified?

Privacy advocates say Hugo Teufel, formerly a general counsel in the department, is virtually unknown in privacy circles.

How committed is the Department of Homeland Security to privacy protection? Judging by the department's selection of DHS associate general counsel Hugo Teufel III, not very, privacy advocates tell the San Francisco Chronicle's David Lazarus.

"He may be a great lawyer," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington legislative office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "But he hasn't done anything in the privacy area, at least not that we can see."

"I don't think he's qualified," Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said. "This is someone who has worked closely with the secretary. He's unlikely to exercise the kind of independence that this office requires."

The duties of the privacy officer, created by Congress in 2002, are to ensure that "the use of technologies sustain, and do not erode, privacy protections relating to the use, collection and disclosure of personal information."

Teufel's predecessor, Nuala O'Connor Kelly, now head of privacy for General Electric, declined to comment on Teufel's qualificiations. She left in part because of frustration with lack of subpoena power and other tools to compel employee cooperation with her investigations.

But O'Connor Kelly reportedly was frustrated with her lack of subpoena power, limiting her ability to compel Homeland Security's thousands of workers to cooperate with internal privacy investigations.

So who is Teufel? Lazarus reports that he was a pro-gun lobbyist, who went so far as to suggest that battered women should turn guns on their husbands, intead of seeking restraining orders. He also has staked out an unusual position that government can legally stop up leaks through the use of nondisclosure agreements so common in industry.

He is "currently pursuing a master's degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College," DHS adds.