Controls on U.S. Government Websites

Because privacy rules can be ambiguous, privacy policies are an important way both to define the concept of privacy in a particular setting and to specify what should or will be done if a rule is broken.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has jurisdiction over websites, including those of the U.S. government, that solicit potentially private data. In 2000 [FTC00], the FTC established requirements for privacy policy for government websites. Because government websites are covered by the Privacy Act, it was easy for the FTC to require privacy protection. The FTC determined that, in order to obey the Privacy Act, government websites would have to address five privacy factors:


• Notice. Data collectors must disclose their information practices before collecting personal information from consumers.

• Choice. Consumers must be given a choice as to whether and how personal information collected from them may be used.

• Access. Consumers should be able to view and contest the accuracy and completeness of data collected about them.

• Security. Data collectors must take reasonable steps to assure that information collected from consumers is accurate and secure from unauthorized use.

• Enforcement. A reliable mechanism must be in place to impose sanctions for noncompliance with these fair information practices.

In 2002, the U.S. Congress enacted the e-Government Act of 2002 requiring federal government agencies to post privacy policies on their websites. Those policies must disclose

• the information that is to be collected

• the reason the information is being collected

• the intended use by the agency of the information

• the entities with whom the information will be shared

• the notice or opportunities for consent that would be provided to individuals regarding what information is collected and how that information is shared

• the way in which the information will be secured

• the rights of the individual under the Privacy Act and other laws relevant to the protection of the privacy of an individual.

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