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.
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:
Privacy is a cherished American value, closely linked to our concepts of personal freedom and well-
being. . . .Long mindful of the potential for misuse of Federal records on individuals, the United States has adopted a comprehensive approach to limiting the Government's collection, use, and disclosure of personal information. Protections afforded such information include the Privacy Act of 1974, the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988, the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, and [the Privacy Principles]. Increased computerization of Federal records permits this information to be used and analyzed in ways that could diminish individual privacy in the absence of additional safeguards.
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paying special attention to changes in technology, function, and organization that may have made the notices out of date";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.
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.
The four center pages of this issue of FOIA Update contain an updated list of the principal FOIA administrative and legal contacts at federal agencies.
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