UK readies privacy charter

"Electronic Government Services for the 21st Century,"

As U.S. federal agencies struggle to develop and follow their own Internet privacy policies, the United Kingdom soon will issue a governmentwide standard that will tell citizens how their personal information is being collected, used and protected whenever they interact with the government online.

The E-Trust Charter is in its final draft, and will be available shortly on the Web site of the U.K. Office of the E-Envoy (www.e-envoy.gov.uk), said Ann Steward, director of office's e-government group, speaking July 9 at the E-Gov 2001 conference in Washington, D.C.

Recommended as part of the U.K. Online 2000 annual report, the charter builds off the U.K. Data Protection Act of 1998 and will be posted on and followed by all government sites used to deliver services or information to citizens. The charter is tied in with the larger privacy and data sharing initiative under the cross-government Performance and Innovation Unit, Steward said.

U.S. agencies have general guidance on Internet privacy from the Office of Management and Budget, issued in 1999 and 2000, but each agency and department develops its own policies.

In the past year, Congress and the General Accounting Office have often criticized agencies' policies and OMB guidance. This includes a May GAO report on the lack of clear guidance and enforcement from OMB on the high-profile issue of "cookies," small files stored on users' hard drives by Web servers to identify users on return visits.

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