Keep an eye on privacy

Keep an eye on privacy

Thomas R. Temin

When it comes to new systems initiatives, get ready to start thinking about privacy.

The year 2000 problem will have an end point. Personal privacy, however, is shaping up to be an ongoing political issue as Americans grow more worried about computer-driven intrusions into their daily lives. Privacy already is having a trickle-down effect in the federal government.

Columnist Bob Gellman points out in this issue that agencies have long operated under the Privacy Act (see story, Page 20).

What's new is the emergence of privacy as a mass issue, a phenomenon triggered by the Internet's emergence as a mass medium. Serving up services from business and government, the Net proves once again that the citizenry can be of two minds simultaneously.

Take attitudes about government. People rail against so-called big government, taxes and intrusions into, say, local schools. Yet few people object to federal programs to clean rivers, build highways or endow education grants.

The same dichotomy occurs with privacy. People get mad as hell about credit or medical dossiers, yet millions happily post intimate details of themselves on the Web.

We extol the virtues of privacy, but few of us would surrender online conveniences even though they demand personal information that government and private organizations amass in databases.

Federal systems must be paragons of personal privacy protection. The privacy policy notification order that came of out the Office of Management and Budget last month is a step in the right direction. Demanding that agencies post policies on their Web sites about why they collect information and how they intend to use it is great, as far as it goes.

But making sure that systems can protect personal information is a lot more difficult.

As date code fix-it efforts give way to new or delayed systems initiatives, now would be a good time to revisit your systems with an eye toward privacy protection.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director

Internet: [email protected]


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