The Privacy Act and Government 2.0

By Heather West, policy analyst for open government and privacy issues at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

One of the topics that I’ll be proposing a session on is the relationship between outdated privacy policies within government and the advances of government 2.0 we’ve all been talking about at other DC barcamps. The Privacy Act of 1974 illustrates how these policies and laws need to evolve along with technology. The Privacy Act is the law that determines how the government can use your information and you are notified that your information is being collected. Unfortunately, this law dates back to before disco music and eight-track audio- when information was stored on index cards in file cabinets.

It seems clear that federal privacy standards written during a time when “data storage facility” literally referred to file cabinets is due for an update in the digital era. While the basic framework of the Privacy act has held up well over the past 35 years, changes need to be made to insure that the advent of new technologies does not threaten to undermine the protections that have been put in place.

This has been a topic of discussion as we move forward and equip the government with new, innovative tools. The U.S. information security and privacy board recently released a report on updating the Privacy Act, and CDT has proposed a set of amendments to update the Privacy Act. We know that not everyone will agree with our solution- so we invite you, the PrivacyCamp community, to help us refine them- it’s a wiki!

With today’s information technology and the promise of another 35 years of innovation before we get around to updating the Privacy Act again, it’s important to create leadership within the federal government and try to ensure that the definitions of the Privacy Act are capable of protecting privacy in the face of technologies like relational databases, new data mining techniques, and commercially available data. Additionally, it is important to make sure that the government takes advantage of innovative technologies to ensure that privacy notices are effective and informative to the public.

Never before have “Washington insiders” opened the drafting of legislation to the public, for anyone to read, change, and comment on any part of the bill. CDT will edit and moderate this open process and incorporate suggestions in the final bill it submits to Congress. Come help us re-write the Privacy Act at Privacy Camp and on the wiki!


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One Response

  1. Vandal Savage says:

    It’d would also be great if there were a way to protect the your privacy on social networking site from potential employers and such without having to block off everybody:

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About Privacy Camp

PrivacyCamp is an multi-city unconference about privacy focusing on government policy and social networking.
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