Monday, June 20, 2005

Protecting Privacy in the Digital Age
Protecting Privacy in the Digital Age

American Progress Recommendations on Government's Use of Commercial Databases

May 4, 2005


The data revolution provides powerful new tools for homeland security. Using commercial databases, law-enforcement officials can search vast amounts of information to instantly locate terrorism suspects. This capability promises to make it more difficult for terrorists to operate within our borders and easier for law enforcement to prevent attacks and save lives.

Yet there are also dangers to personal privacy. Because of ambiguities in the law, government has decided not to apply privacy protections to commercial databases. While a federal agency must conduct a Privacy Impact Assessment if it compiles a new database, it can subscribe to personal data assembled by private companies without considering the privacy implications. There are few limits in place on how this information can be used and no requirement that Congress, let alone the public, be notified of the agency's practices. If information is inaccurate, individuals have no recourse to correct it and could be wrongly targeted for investigation or scrutiny, or suffer other adverse consequences.

The Center for American Progress offers the following recommendations to extend privacy protections to personal information assembled by government contractors (as well as private companies that voluntarily hand over information to the government).[1] Consistent with established privacy principles, we recommend that privacy implications be publicly evaluated up front; that individuals be given the opportunity to correct inaccurate information; and that standards be developed to place limits on the use of personal information. In short, concern for privacy must be an integral part of homeland security. This will help foster public confidence in government actions, avoid the squandering of valuable security resources on misguided projects, and protect personal information from unwarranted intrusion.

Full article here: