FOIA Update: President Issues Privacy Act-Related Memorandum to All Federal Agencies

January 1, 1998

FOIA Update
Vol. XIX, No. 2
1998


President Issues Privacy Act-Related
Memorandum to All Federal Agencies

In a development that underscores the growing importance of personal privacy protection in the electronic information age, President Clinton has called upon all federal agencies to take further privacy-protection steps, based largely on the Privacy Act of 1974, within the next year.

On May 14, President Clinton issued an executive memorandum to the heads of all federal departments and agencies, entitled, "Privacy and Personal Information in Federal Records," in which he directed each agency to designate a senior official with responsibility for privacy policy, to conduct a series of reviews of agency record systems in order to ensure compliance with Privacy Act requirements, and also to apply the Principles for Providing and Using Personal Information ("Privacy Principles") that were developed through the Information Infrastructure Task Force under the auspices of the Department of Commerce in 1995.

Importance of Privacy Protection

President Clinton's executive memorandum begins with a statement of the importance of safeguarding personal privacy interests in the information that the federal government collects and maintains:

being. . . .

Privacy Act-Related Reviews

To strengthen the protection of personal privacy information maintained by federal agencies, President Clinton's memorandum calls upon them to conduct several Privacy Act-related reviews:

(1) a review of all agency systems of records notices "for accuracy and completeness, paying special attention to changes in technology, function, and organization that may have made the notices out of date";

(2) a review of all "routine use disclosures" under the Privacy Act, "to ensure they continue to be necessary and compatible with the purpose for which the information was collected";

(3) a review of agency record systems to "identify any systems of records that may not have been described in a published notice, paying special attention to Internet and other electronic communications activities"; and

(4) a review of "agency practices regarding collection or disclosure of personal information in systems of records between the agency and State, local, and tribal governments."

These reviews are to be conducted by agencies in accordance with instructions to be issued by the Office of Management and Budget, with results to be reported to OMB within one year and then summarized by it. OMB also is to issue further guidance on the making of "routine use" disclosures under the Privacy Act.

Privacy Principles

Additionally, the memorandum calls upon agencies to evaluate legislative proposals for consistency with both the Privacy Act and also the Privacy Principles that were developed by a privacy working group of the Information Infrastructure Task Force in 1995. Those principles address matters of "information privacy, information integrity, and information quality" for information within the "National Information Infrastructure," which includes the private sector. They are in many respects similar to the Privacy Act's privacy-protection provisions for federal information.

While President Clinton's memorandum does not directly pertain to agency disclosure of information to the public or to Freedom of Information Act administration, federal agency personnel who are involved in administering both the FOIA and the Privacy Act will likely be involved in its implementation.


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