OMB orders feds to post privacy notice
- By Margret Johnston
- Jun 06, 1999
The Office of Management and Budget last week directed agencies and departments to post clear privacy policies on the home pages of their World Wide Web sites by Sept. 1.
The policies must inform visitors to federal Web sites what information the agency collects, why it is collected and how the agency plans to use it, OMB Director Jacob Lew wrote in a memo to the heads of departments and agencies last week.
Lew also set Dec. 1 as a deadline for agencies to add privacy policies on other government sites that link to their home pages.
Only about 50 Web sites, those of Cabinet-level departments and the major agencies, must comply with the first deadline, but the Dec. 1 deadline affects thousands of government sites and Web pages in which agencies collect substantial amounts of information.
The General Services Administration issued a governmentwide memo last summer offering guidance on protecting the public's privacy on federal Web sites and urging officials to post privacy policies, but last week was the first time a requirement was issued.
In addition to the directive, Lew's memo included guidance designed to help agencies write or rewrite their Web privacy policies. The guidance was developed by a steering committee formed after Peter Swire was appointed in March as chief counselor for privacy, a new position within OMB.
"This is the kind of document we were hoping would be created," said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst with the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group that follows information technology issues in Washington, D.C.
"That's why this is such a big deal. The agencies will have to look at each one of the technical impacts," Doerflein said.
Schwartz called the guidance "quite good. We'll have to see what happens in September, but certainly for getting agencies to understand how important privacy is, this document lays that out very clearly."
Baker said it is important that federal agencies, especially Commerce, which oversees much of the activity of the business world, lead by example on Web privacy matters.
"We are the agency that's really driving the need for privacy policies in the private sector, so it's really important for us to have them on our Web sites," Baker said.
Lew's memo reminded agency heads that under the 1974 Privacy Act, federal agencies must notify individuals whenever it collects information from them and must protect their right to privacy.
But legislators could not anticipate the development of the Internet, and therefore the Privacy Act does not explicitly require privacy notices on Web sites, said Frank Reeder, one of the authors of the Privacy Act and now a consultant on technology and public policy issues in Arlington, Va.
"What OMB is now doing, and I think quite properly, is encouraging agencies to adopt a sound practice, and that is to let people know the extent to which information being gathered is being used," Reeder said.