Editorial: Access vs. security: a balancing act

The Internet has made it possible for agencies to share information across government and with the public with previously unimaginable ease and relatively little cost. But recent cases have underscored the fact that agencies have the right to share information electronically only if they provide the means to protect it.

Vice President Al Gore made that connection clear this month when he called for a top-down review of how agencies protect personal information that is collected and stored electronically. The administration recognizes that information technology, and the Internet in particular, has the potential to erode the protections required by the Privacy Act and related statutes.

The Defense Department has come to a similar realization with respect to security. DOD recently decided to restrict Internet access to a database containing information on DOD systems' Year 2000 compliance status and other information. While this case had nothing to do with a person's right to privacy, DOD rightly decided that the risk of adversaries easily accessing this data outweighs the concerns about slowing down the efforts of individual services to fix the millennium bug.

Both cases demonstrated the growing realization that the Internet, regardless of its virtues, requires agencies to think carefully about the information they collect and the vulnerabilities they create by making that data available on the World Wide Web. The Social Security Administration set a good example last year when, in response to concerns about an online benefits database, it pulled the service off the Web and kept it off until the agency had determined how to eliminate potential vulnerabilities.

The Internet is a powerful tool for helping agencies make better use of information. But if agencies do not protect sensitive information with both policy and technology, they will be forced by public outcry or by Congress to shut access down. In that scenario, everyone loses.

FCW in Print

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


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • 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.

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