Time to update the Privacy Act?

Lawmakers say they might update the Privacy Act this year with a consensus proposal that could pass without controversy, or they might wait until next year to develop comprehensive privacy reform legislation.

“There is no question that the Privacy Act of 1974 is not up to the realities of 2008 and the Age of Information,” said Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Government Accountability Office auditors and privacy experts told the committee last week that the privacy law should be revised to ensure that personal data the government collects and stores electronically is appropriately protected.

Current laws, including the Privacy and E-Government acts, and guidance from the Office of Management and Budget might not be adequate for safeguarding personally identifiable information in all circumstances, said Linda Koontz, director of information management issues at GAO. New technologies make it easier to use, reuse and share data, she said. “We need stronger protections because we foresee more sharing.”

A new GAO report and recent congressional testimony reflect consensus on a set of proposals, said Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, a privacy advocacy group. Schwartz urged the committee to quickly bring a bill to the Senate for approval so the next president can have the right tools in place from the start of his administration.

About the Author

Mary Mosquera is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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