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Home > Privacy and Government > Privacy Law Governing the Government Sector > Important Directives, Guidelines, and Studies > OECD Guidelines

OECD Guidelines

Though they are not law in the United States, the privacy guidelines issued by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 1980 are an important part of privacy debates today. The OECD consists of bureaucrats from 29 countries that work to coordinate policies with the aim of fostering international trade. The United States is a member of the OECD and one of the largest funders of its $200 million dollar annual budget. The Secretariat of the OECD is in Paris, France.

The Guidelines involve eight principles, which in different variations are often touted as "fair information practices":

  1. Collection Limitation Principle: There should be limits to the collection of personal data and any such data should be obtained by lawful and fair means and, where appropriate, with the knowledge or consent of the data subject.
  2. Data Quality Principle: Personal data should be relevant to the purposes for which they are to be used, and, to the extent necessary for those purposes, should be accurate, compete and kept up-to-date.
  3. Purpose Specification Principle: The purposes for which personal data are collected should be specified not later than at the time of collection and the subsequent use limited to the fulfilment of those purposes or such others as are not incompatible with those purposes and as are specified on each occasion of change of purpose.
  4. Use Limitation Principle: Personal data should not be disclosed, made available or otherwise used for purposes other than those specified in accordance with Principle 3 except:
    • with the consent of the data subject; or
    • by the authority of law.
  5. Security Safeguards Principle: Personal data should be protected by reasonable security safeguards against such risks as loss or unauthorised access, destruction, use, modification or disclosure of data.
  6. Openness Principle: There should be a general policy of openness about developments, practices and policies with respect to personal data. Means should be readily available of establishing the existence and nature of personal data, and the main purposes of their use, as well as the identity and usual residence of the data controller.
  7. Individual Participation Principle: An individual should have the right:
    • (a) to obtain from the data controller, or otherwise, confirmation of whether or not the data controller has data relating to him;
    • (b) to have communicated to him, data relating to him
      • within a reasonable time;
      • at a charge, if any, that is not excessive;
      • in a reasonable manner; and
      • in a form that is readily intelligible to him;
    • (c) to be given reasons if a request made under sub-paragraphs (a) and (b) is denied, and to be able to challenge such denial; and
    • (d) to challenge data relating to him and, if the challenge is successful, to have the data erased, rectified, completed or amended.
  8. Accountability Principle: A data controller should be accountable for complying with measures which give effect to the principles stated above.

The Guidelines, and the concept of "fair information practices" generally, fail to address privacy coherently and completely because they do not recognize a rather fundamental premise: the vast difference in rights, powers, and incentives between governments and the private sector. Governments have heavy incentives to use and sometimes misuse information. They may appropriately be controlled by "fair information practices."

Private sector entities tend to have a balance of incentives, and they are subject to both legal and market-punishments when they misuse information. Saddling them with additional, top-down regulation in the form of "fair information practices" would raise the cost of goods and services to consumers without materially improving their privacy.



Comments? (Subject: OECDGuidelines)

[updated 04/17/02]

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