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Clinton, Gore push stricter federal privacy policies

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Clinton, Gore push stricter federal privacy policies 06/01/98 WASHINGTON, D.C.--Calling privacy "a cherished American value, closely linked to concepts of…

Clinton, Gore push stricter federal privacy policies

06/01/98

WASHINGTON, D.C.–Calling privacy “a cherished American value, closely linked to concepts of personal freedom and well-being,” President Clinton on May 14 issued a government-wide memorandum to heads of executive offices and agencies calling for stronger privacy policies in government agencies.

In the second sentence of the memorandum the President acknowledged that, “At the same time, fundamental principles such as those underlying the First Amendment, perhaps the most important hallmark of American democracy, protect the free flow of information in our society.”

The memorandum called for a reexamination of the government’s role in promoting “the interests of a democratic society in personal privacy and the free flow of information.”

It called upon each federal agency to appoint a senior official within the month to assume primary responsibility for privacy policy. Although agencies already have Privacy Act officers, their duties do not necessarily extend beyond monitoring the agency’s compliance with that Act.

Issuance of the memorandum served as a back-drop for Vice President Gore’s commencement speech at New York University the next day. Gore called for protection of consumer privacy, new measures to protect medical privacy, and the creation of a centralized Website that would allow persons to prevent private companies from passing on information about them, according to the Washington Post.

The Vice President called the President’s memorandum “an electronic bill of rights for the information age,” according to The Post. Most of the text of the memorandum called for agencies to adhere to existing privacy laws or the privacy projections outlined in the Office of Management and Budget’s Circular A-130, the federal government’s information policy.

The memorandum directed that agency uses of new information technologies “sustain, and do not erode, the projections provided in all statutes relating to agency use, collection, and disclosure of personal information.”

It called for agency compliance with the Privacy Act and for evaluation of legislative proposals involving federal government information to ensure consistency with the Privacy Act.

Although the subject line of the memorandum listed “Privacy and Personal Information in Federal Records,” the text clearly referred to privacy interests in records held by private as well as public entities.

For instance, the memorandum called for evaluation of legislative proposals involving collection, use and disclosure of personal information by any public or private entity to ensure that any new laws be consistent with privacy principles drawn up by the Information Infrastructure Task Force in 1995. (Memorandum from President Clinton for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies, May 14, 1998)