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GAO: There Ought to Be a Law

Government's ability to extract and manipulate personal data is too broad, watchdog agency says

The laws that protect U.S. citizens' personal data from the government need to be changed, the Government Accountability Office told Congress today.

In a report issued today and in subsequent testimony before a Congressional committee, the GAO said that current laws regarding the access and use of personal information are too narrow and have been outmoded by new technologies such as data mining.

Laws written in the 1970s to govern the use of paper and static files don't protect all of the records that the government currently has at its disposal, nor do they take into account currently available methods for scanning and accessing them, the GAO said. In addition, the government is not always required to give a specific reason for accessing the personal data, and the system of notifying citizens about how it is using their information is arcane, the GAO stated.

Among other legislation, the GAO recommends that Congress adopt laws that govern the use of networked systems for searching personal records, and that government officials be required to give a specific purpose for accessing personal information. The federal government should also create a Website that clearly states the rules and practices governing the use of personal records, the GAO said.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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