Finding a balance

Whenever one discusses privacy issues, it is important to begin with a truism that has become cliche: The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks changed this country's outlook on nearly every issue.

If you have waited in line at airport security checkpoints, for example, no doubt you have a clear understanding of how the landscape has changed.

Few issues, however, have been altered as significantly as the concerns about personal privacy.

There has always been a conflict between privacy and security, and that balance changed dramatically after Sept. 11. But citizens are becoming wary. At least two systems have made that philosophical debate very real — the Transportation Security Administration's Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System system and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Terrorism Information Awareness program.

It is clear that the Bush administration is sensitive about even the slightest accusation that it is not cognizant of privacy issues.

Administration officials recently attacked the General Accounting Office for suggesting that agencies were not complying with the Privacy Act. In fact, two senior administration officials shot back an unusually detailed response that GAO's conclusions lacked factual basis.

Yet there is a sense that the administration is not concerned with balancing the two issues. For example, officials have decided not to appoint a chief privacy advocate at the Office of Management and Budget.

Unfortunately, few agencies have people watching the security/privacy balance. According to the Center for Democracy and Technology, only three agencies have designated privacy officers — the Homeland Security Department (the only one required by law), the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Service.

An easy way to strike a balance between privacy and security would be to have agencies — including OMB — appoint privacy officers who can help ensure that such issues are considered.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.

Featured

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

  • Shutterstock image.

    Merged IT modernization bill punts on funding

    A House panel approved a new IT modernization bill that appears poised to pass, but key funding questions are left for appropriators.

  • General Frost

    Army wants cyber capability everywhere

    The Army's cyber director said cyber, electronic warfare and information operations must be integrated into warfighters' doctrine and training.

  • Rising Star 2013

    Meet the 2016 Rising Stars

    FCW honors 30 early-career leaders in federal IT.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group