The Obama Administration’s nominee to head the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is facing some serious questions after the release of a letter showing that he had intentionally or inadvertently misled Congress over his violation of privacy laws while at the FBI. While the Democrats are continuing to support Erroll Southers, civil libertarians have great misgivings over the controversy.
Twenty years ago, Southers got access to the personal records of the boyfriend of his ex-wife in a clear violation of privacy laws, which makes such review a misdemeanor criminal offense. Southers, who apologized over the incident (for which he was disciplined) told Congress earlier that it was a single occurrence where he asked a subordinate to pull the record.
One day, however, after the Senate committee approved his nomination (a highly suspicious timing for the disclosure), Southers wrote a letter to Congress to say that he had forgotten that (1) he had personally accessed the records, (2) he had done it more than once, and (3) he had personally passed along the information to friends in the local police department.
It is precisely the type of violation of privacy that has occurred all too often in these agencies and, when coupled with a question of veracity under oath, it has civil libertarians questioning this choice by Obama. During the hearing, Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) asked “If you’re confirmed, you’re going to have the access to databases that have personal information on many, many individuals, such as through the secure flight program, and it’s going to be important for the public to have confidence that you would not, in any way, misuse your access to the personal information in those databases. So, let me first ask you: Have you ever in the past misused your access to databases that the government maintains, other than this one incident that led to this censure?” Southers replied, “No, Senator, I have not.”
Southers wrote the Committee:
“I am distressed by the inconsistencies between my recollection and the contemporaneous documents, but I assure you that the mistake was inadvertent, and that I have at all times taken full responsibility for what I know to have been a grave error in judgment,” the letter said. “This incident was over twenty years ago, I was distraught and concerned about my young son, and never in my career since has there been any recurrence of this sort of conduct.”
For their part, the Senators did their usual show of concern over civil liberties (an issue that Republicans hardly excelled on during the Bush Administration). Sen. Collins asked Southers “Do you commit today that you will respect the privacy and civil liberties concerns that people have with regard to the personal information in those databases?”
“Yes, Senator, I do,” Southers responded. Well that takes care of that.
For the full story, click here.