President Bush has selected a top tech lawyer to be assistant secretary of homeland security for policy – a position he will use to work out various “what if” scenarios concerning future mischief-making.

President Bush said Wednesday that he has chosen Stewart Baker, one of Washington’s most influential technology lawyers, to be assistant secretary of homeland security for policy.

Baker’s new job, which requires Senate confirmation, would place him in the prominent position of shaping policy on topics from data mining to the department’s planning for “what if” scenarios far off in the future. It also could include evaluating existing department functions for efficiency and creating a national strategy to prevent terrorists from entering the United States.

The nomination is part of a sweeping reorganization of the department that Secretary Michael Chertoff announced Wednesday. “Creation of a DHS policy shop has been suggested by members of Congress, (former Secretary Tom Ridge), and numerous outside experts,” Chertoff said. “Now is the time to make this a reality.”

Baker is currently a partner at the Steptoe and Johnson law firm–which counts many technology companies as clients–and has been an important but polarizing fixture in many privacy debates during the last 15 years.

Baker served as the general counsel of the National Security Agency–the bane of many civil libertarians–during the early 1990s. At the time, the NSA was busy defending the Clipper Chip, intrusive export controls on encryption products, and “key escrow” rules that would encourage encryption backdoors for police convenience.

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