For privacy protection, survey says this agency delivers

Survey finds Postal Service most trusted agency when it comes to protecting privacy; FTC, IRS finish second and third

Results of a survey released today of more than 9,000 adult U.S. citizens and legal residents show the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to be the federal agency that people trust most to protect their privacy, followed by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

The survey from Ponemon Institute, an independent for-profit research institute, revealed that the agencies least trusted with privacy are security and law enforcement agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Justice Department.

The agencies were ranked by average privacy trust scores (PTS) that represent the average frequency of favorable (non-negative) responses given by people surveyed. Respondents were asked about how well they think 75 different federal organizations protect privacy. Agencies were listed separately from their parent departments in some cases.

The results showed that respondents felt "sense of security protection," "one-to-one contact" and "limited collection of personal data" to be the most important factors (of those listed in the survey) for increasing trust in privacy commitments. Respondents were also asked to identify whether factors listed were relevant to their beliefs about the government's privacy commitment. The concerns that got the most responses were: "surveillance into personal life," "loss of civil liberties," and "monitoring of e-mails and Web."


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Overall, Ponemon found privacy trust scores for the U.S. government to be 38 percent, down from 52 percent in 2005, the first year that the annual survey’s results were released.

The agency with the biggest drop in PTS was the Census Bureau, which saw its score plummet from 78 percent in 2009 to 39 percent this year. Ponemon said that score was influenced by the fact that the bureau has been conducting a national census this year. The institute noted that in a prior survey the Veterans Affairs Department’s PTS dropped after it disclosed a data breach, only to recover about one year later.

According to Ponemon’s survey, the seven agencies with the highest 2010 PTS score are:

  • USPS at 87 percent.
  • FTC at 79 percent.
  • IRS at 71 percent.
  • National Institutes of Health at 65 percent.
  • Veterans Affairs Department 64 percent.
  • Federal Court System at 60 percent.
  • Social Security Administration at 60 percent.

Meanwhile, the seven agencies with the lowest 2010 PTS scores are:

  • CBP at 16 percent.
  • USCIS at 17 percent.
  • NSA at 20 percent.
  • Federal Bureau of Prisons at 21 percent.
  • Justice at 21 percent.
  • Homeland Security Department at 21 percent.
  • CIA at 23 percent.

Ponemon Institute is a member of the Council of American Survey Research Organizations.

About the Author

Ben Bain is a reporter for Federal Computer Week.

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Reader comments

Tue, Jul 6, 2010 HHS

This study doesn't pass the most basic scientific scrutiny. The response rate was 5.3% For a study to have any validity, it needs at least an 80% response rate. This study would be laughed at by actual statisticians. Although I work at HHS, and I think NIH does a great job and people probably really do think highly of them with regard to privacy, this study is not evidence of that. I have never understood why Ponemon gets any credence for his work, let alone paid to do this sort of stuff, or why FCW would report on it.

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