GAO says agencies protect personal data

Federal agencies that collect personal information from the public usually take the right steps to protect privacy, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office.

From March 2001 to July this year, GAO looked at how four agencies-the Agriculture, Education, Labor and State departments-gather and maintain the personal data used to determine whether individuals are eligible for government benefit programs such as Medicare and federal student loans.

The agencies collect a broad range of personal information, including names, Social Security numbers, driver's license identification numbers and education. Though they share private data with other federal offices, such as the IRS, and some state officials, the agencies in the study ensured the information remained secure, according to GAO.

"The agencies generally complied with the key requirements and guidance pertaining to information collection, privacy, security and records management," the report (GAO-02-1058) said.

Under the 1974 Privacy Act, the 1987 Computer Security Act and the 2000 Government Information Security Reform Act, agencies are required to identify systems containing confidential information, limit access to sensitive data and ensure that private data is stored in a secure location. Agencies also have to make certain the information is reliable and not misused.

According to GAO, Agriculture, Education, Labor and State all established a clearance process for employees designated to handle the information, limited access to sensitive information, checked to make sure their computer systems were protected from hackers and created procedures for archiving personal data in safe locations.

GAO pointed out several minor breaches of privacy policy, including forms that were out-of-date, inaccurate or lacking adequate privacy notices. For instance, the privacy notice on one Labor Department form failed to give individuals "critical information about their rights in filling out the form," leaving out a description of how the department would use the requested information. Labor has since posted an up-to-date form with an appropriate privacy statement

Officials from the four agencies agreed with GAO's findings.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

    Download
  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.