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Home > Privacy and Government > Current Issues: > GAO Studies of Government Web Privacy Practices

GAO Studies of Government Web Privacy Practices

A series of studies by the General Accounting Office have revealed that Web sites operated by the U.S. federal government have privacy and security practices that range from marginally adequate to shockingly weak.

On September 5, 2000 GAO released a study commissioned by Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Joseph I. Lieberman (D-CT) that revealed how weakly Office of Management and Budget dictates on federal Web site privacy protection are followed. In a survey of online privacy protections at government-run Web sites, GAO found that 23 of the 70 agencies it surveyed had disclosed personal information gathered from Web sites to third parties, mostly other government agencies. At least four agencies had shared information with private entities.

A second study, issued September 6, 2000 to Chairman Steve Horn (R-CA) of the Subcommitte on Government Management, Information and Technology, found that information security practices at U.S. federal government agencies are fraught with weaknesses. The study found that "information security weaknesses place enormous amounts of confidential data, ranging from personal and tax to proprietary business information, at risk of inappropriate disclosure.

A third GAO study, released September 12, found that a staggering 97 percent of federal websites did not adhere to the principles of notice, choice, access, and security that the Federal Trade Commission has recommended imposing on private-sector Web sites. This latter study is especially significant because citizens do not have a choice whether or not to deal with the federal government. If unsatisfied with the information practices of private sector Web sites and businesses, consumers may refuse to do business with them, but this is not the case with governments.


Most Federal Sites Fail Privacy Test by Brock Meeks, MSNBC (September 12, 2000)

Internet Privacy: Comparison of Federal Agency Practices with FTC's Fair Information Principles General Accounting Office (September 11, 2000)

Information Security: Serious and Widespread Weaknesses Persist at Federal Agencies General Accounting Office (September 6, 2000)

Internet Privacy: Agencies' Efforts to Implement OMB's Privacy Policy General Accounting Office (September 5, 2000)

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[updated 9/12/00]

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