Wednesday, April 26, 2006

GAO on Homeland Security Privacy Concerns

GAO report on privacy causes worry for Maine Congress members according to this story. Congress members OIympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Michael Michaud and Tom Allen are all calling for tighter privacy protections on Homeland Security information gathering and handling.

One major concern appears to be the purchase of information from private contractors, including ChoicePoint and Lexis/Nexis commercial data brokers. The DHS and Justice Department, State Department and Social Security Administration together spent $30 million last year to purchase data on law abiding Americans from data brokers. That information is often out of date and inaccurate, but those agencies are each incorporating that data into their databases.

The concern of the congressional delegation from Maine was caused by a Governmental Accountability Office (GAO) report citing privacy violations in handling information on US citizens. Rep. Collins had insisted on the creation of a "Privacy Board" when the Department of Homeland Security was created, but the Bush Administration has failed to fund or appoint members to that board. Collins is suggesting that privacy shortcomings from the GAO report be addressed by a (so far non-existent) DHS Privacy Board.

But the larger problem addressed by the GAO report is that data brokers are not constrained by Government "Fair Information" practices which require that citizens have a right to access information about them and make changes, corrections and deletions to make certain that information is completely accurate. The data brokers buy their information from commercial sources and are under no restrictions as to reliability of source or accuracy of information they hold on consumers.

Those government agencies now using that commercially obtained data are treating it as though it is complete and accurate, and that is the conlcusion of the GAO report and the Congressional delegation from Maine. Citizens must be given access and be allowed to edit for accuracy to live up to guidelines established, as stated by Government Accountability Office:

To address our objectives, we identified and reviewed applicable laws such as the Privacy Act of 1974 and the E-Government Act, agency policies and practices, and the widely accepted privacy principles embodied in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) version of the Fair Information Practices.
Once this data is incorporated into government agency databases, it is treated as though it were accurate and gains a cache not applied to commercial sources due to assumptions about government information being reliable - even though it is now tainted by outdated and inaccurate information obtained from those commercial data brokers.

This spiral of information sources being drawn into central government databases and being viewed as gospel cannot continue if we truly respect our privacy and wish governement to do the same. This database merging and sharing is happening in Britain as well, as mentioned in yesterday's post. It has got to stop if we want to see privacy protected. Kudos to the Maine Congressional delegation for standing up for privacy.

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posted by RealitySEO at 10:34 AM


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