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Home > Past Releases and Reports > Reveals Government Information-Sharing Practices

For Immediate Release

March 12, 2001

Contact: Jim Harper

(202) 486-0824 Reveals Government Information-Sharing Practices

Government Exchange and Merger of Citizens' Personal Data Called "Systematic and Routine"

Washington, D.C. Web-based privacy policy thinktank released a report today showing that federal government agencies regularly trade personal information about American citizens.

The report reveals that, in the last 18 months, new government information-sharing programs have been announced more than once every two weeks. Citizens' personal information is shared among the Internal Revenue Service, the Health Care Financing Administration, the Department of Labor, and the Social Security Administration, to name a few. The Privacilla report calls this "the tip of an information-trading iceberg."

"At no point do people have the option of withholding information from government," said Jim Harper, operator of "It's hard to protect privacy in the commercial world, but it's impossible to protect privacy in the governmental world."

The report comes in advance of a Federal Trade Commission workshop on exchange and merger of personal information in the private sector.

"Governments should be the first to give up data merger practices that threaten privacy," the Privacilla report finds. It also calls on Congress to "take a sweeping look at the federal government's information practices."

"The FTC shouldn't tut-tut the private sector until the government has its own house in order," said Harper.

The Privacilla report acknowledges the beneficial purposes for which citizens' personal information is shared. These include debt collection and assessment of credit risk, avoiding waste and overpayment in federal programs, and law enforcement.

"Many uses government makes of personal information are parallel to uses the private sector makes," noted Harper, "but only government gets to write and rewrite the rules about how information can be used."

"Governments are fundamentally not in the business of protecting privacy," summarizes the report, which was compiled by reviewing announcements in the Federal Register required by the Privacy Act and the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act.

"With the current focus on privacy of health care information, it is surprising to see the Health Care Finance Administration sharing information with other agencies," said Harper. "Federal health privacy rules should be rewritten to give patients the power and responsibility to protect privacy as they see fit." ( is a Web site that captures privacy as a public policy issue from a free-market, pro-technology perspective. It has been described as a "privacy policy portal" and an "online think-tank."


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