OMB: Agencies must post Web privacy policies

The Office of Management and Budget yesterday directed agencies to post clear policies of what information they collect about visitors to their World Wide Web sites by Sept. 1.

The privacy policies must tell site visitors what information the agencies collect, why the agencies collect the information and how they will use it, OMB director Jacob Lew said in a memo to the heads of departments and agencies.

Lew cited the Privacy Act and other regulations in reminding agency and department heads that they must protect an individual's right to privacy.

"Posting a privacy policy helps ensure that individuals have notice and choice about, and thus confidence in, how their personal information is handled when they use the Internet," Lew wrote.

Lew also sent agencies a guide to be used in reviewing their existing privacy policies or in creating such policies.

In April, the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group in Washington, D.C., that follows information technology issues, issued a report that found of 46 executive branch agencies studied, 22 had not posted a discernible privacy policy, and eight agencies had policies that were difficult to find. Sixteen agencies had what the center considered to be easy-to-find privacy policies, typically links directly from the front pages of the agencies' Web sites.

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