- By Judi Hasson
- Jun 26, 2000
Tell It All
When the Federal Trade Commission asked Congress to pass legislation
requiring Internet companies to follow "fair information practices," House
Republican leaders saw the request as fair game in the pre-election guerrilla
war they are waging on the White House. The FTC wants a law requiring e-commerce
companies to give consumers "conspicuous" notice when personal information
is collected, options on how their personal information can be used, a chance
to see what the company has collected on them and assurances that their
information will be kept secure.
Too bad the federal government can't offer the same assurances, wrote
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) in a letter to President Clinton
June 16. The federal government collects far more personal information than
the private sector, Armey said. He noted that the Internal Revenue Service
inadvertently disclosed the financial data of 1,391 taxpayers to an accountant
and apologized by offering each family a $1,000 check. "I'd be much more
concerned about the IRS disclosing my personal financial information than
about the GAP.com knowing how many pairs of jeans I've bought this year,"
What Government Wants You to Know
Even though Los Alamos was in the news repeatedly in the past two weeks,
you would never know it by looking at the World Wide Web sites run by the
Energy Department and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. It took the lab
more than a week to post press releases about the missing computer hard
drives on its Web site. The Energy site never had a word. Is this selective
distribution of information? Post only good news, not the bad? Lesson: Trust
your government selectively.
Keeping a promise he made during a hearing on NASA's Mars program failures,
Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) introduced a bill that would require federal
agencies in each contract, grant or research agreement to clearly state
what unit of measurement they will use. The bill, H.R. 4414, would amend
the Metric Conversion Act of 1975.
Ehlers introduced the bill in response to what he called a "freshman" mistake
that proved to be a disaster in calculating the distance traveled by the
Mars Climate Orbiter. The orbiter's contractors used nonmetric units of
measurement for the spacecraft's navigational calculations, while NASA scientists
used the metric system. The result: Contractors' inability to differentiate
between a yard and a meter cost taxpayers $122 million.
Even the most Internet-savvy of the world's governments, including the
United States, offer just a fraction of possible services online. That's
the finding of researchers at Andersen Consulting, which reviewed 157 services
that governments could provide online. Just 10 percent are being delivered
by most countries. Even the best-connected governments have reached only
20 percent of their potential to provide online services. Among them: the
United States, Australia, Singapore and Canada. Andersen Consulting is offering
a handheld computer to the country that gets up to speed first. But hurry even those devices may soon be obsolete.
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