Before the U.S. federal government embarks on further regulation of private sector
information practices, it should assess the results of the existing law and regulation.
Happily, this is already required.
The Government Performance and Results Act (P.L. 103-62) requires federal agencies
to establish clear goals based on their statutory authority and to report annually on
their progress in meeting those goals. Federal agencies now prepare multi-year strategic
plans, annual performance plans, and annual performance reports for Congress. The
performance plans and reports are supposed to have outcome measures (like "lives saved")
rather than process measures (like "guidebooks printed" or "dollars spent") so that
Congress, the press, and the public can assess what laws and regulations are actually
With numerous new privacy laws on the books in areas such as medical privacy, financial
privacy, and online privacy, Results Act assessments are needed.
The agencies that implement these laws should establish numeric performance measures of
consumer privacy, analyze the current state of consumer privacy, and then show how the
regulations increase consumer privacy.
This is not an easy intellectual exercise because "privacy" reflects the values of
individuals, which governments are in a difficult position to
protect. Nonetheless, if taxpayer dollars are to be consumed and business practices
altered in the name of privacy, the results of that spending and regulating should be
"About HHS" web page (with links
to Strategic Plan and Annual Performance Plans and Reports) U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services (medical privacy)
"Mission, Goals and Results" web page
U.S. Department of the Treasury (financial privacy)
"Government Performance and Results
Act" web page Federal Trade Commission (financial and online privacy)
"NCUA Strategic Plan" web
page National Credit Union Administration (financial privacy)
"About the SEC" web page
(with links to Strategic Plan) Securities and Exchange Commission (financial privacy)
Government Integrity Through Performance, Results, and Accountability by Virginia
L. Thomas, Heritage Foundation (June 26, 2000)