Citizens do trust some agencies with personal information

Citizens trust the Postal Service, Veterans Affairs Department and IRS to secure their personal information. Those three agencies topped the list in a new survey that asked respondents to rate 44 federal agencies’ privacy trustworthiness.

The survey—conducted by the CIO Institute of Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh and Ponemon Institute, a privacy think tank in Tucson, Ariz.—includes responses from 6,313 people around the country.

The survey (12-page PDF) bases the rankings on how many respondents said they were confident in an agency’s ability to protect private information.

Seventy-eight percent of those surveyed said USPS protected their information best. Respondents also expressed confidence in VA, at 76 percent, and the IRS, at 75 percent.

The Social Security Administration and the Federal Trade Commission rounded out the top five slots, with each receiving positive responses from 70 percent of those surveyed.

“The organizations that scored highly are those that have held the trust of the American public for many years,” said Larry Ponemon, founder of the Ponemon Institute and an adjunct professor of ethics and privacy at the CIO Institute. “When we spoke with some of the survey respondents, they indicated having the most confidence in the Postal Service because of their personal relationship with their mail carrier. That relationship translates into trust of the Postal Service overall.”

Who’s the public most worried about giving personal information to? The National Security Agency (29 percent), CIA (27 percent), Homeland Security Department (27 percent), Justice Department (24 percent) and Attorney General’s Office (22 percent) received the five lowest trust scores.

Ponemon said a low score does not necessarily mean those agencies are failing to protect information. He said many responses were driven by uncertainty among respondents about the agencies rather than by knowledge of careless privacy practices or poor policies.

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