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    World Privacy Forum: Data Brokers and the Federal Government: A New Front in the Battle for Privacy Opens

    The World Privacy Forum has issued a new report, written by Bob Gellman and Pam Dixon, “Data Brokers and the Federal Government: A New Front in the Battle for Privacy Opens.” Here’s an excerpt from the report about privacy:

    This report focuses on government use of commercial data brokers, the implications for that usage, and what needs to be done to address privacy problems. The government must bring itself fully to heel in the area of privacy. If it is going to outsource its data needs to commercial data brokers, it needs to attach the privacy standards it would have been held to if it had collected the data itself. Outsourcing is not an excuse for evading privacy obligations.

    This report discusses new Office of Management and Budget (OMB) guidance for an initiative (Do Not Pay Initiative) that on one hand provides for expanded use of commercial data brokers by federal agencies and on the other it establishes new privacy standards for the databases used in the Initiative. Although incomplete, its extension of privacy standards to commercial databases purchased by the federal government is groundbreaking.

    As such, this report recommends that OMB should expand its new guidance to cover all government data purchases, bartering, and exchanges from commercial data brokers and databases containing personal information. The problems created by unregulated government use of commercial data sources need to be seen clearly and addressed directly.

    If all federal government uses of commercial data brokers are not required to satisfy the new OMB guidelines at a minimum, then the very databases that are supposed to be used for society’s benefit will be less accurate, timely, relevant, and complete, and can therefore cause unnecessary and avoidable harms such as garbled identities, blocking individuals from government benefits, and potential misclassification or even law enforcement actions against people due to errors in data. On a broader level, a lack of trust in the government’s ability to properly protect fair information rights in a new digital era can be the expensive societal result.

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