White House works on data management privacy principles

As the White House unveils online government services, the nation's e-government chief said Monday that the Bush administration is working hard to balance concerns over privacy with the need for streamlined information-sharing practices.

These challenges are particularly difficult for government, Mark Forman, associate director of information technology and e-government for the White House Office of Management and Budget told the National Academy of Public Administration's privacy conference.

To meet President Bush's mandate for more effective management of federal agencies, OMB is spearheading efforts to translate some agency duties to the Internet, providing greater and more efficient access to citizens, businesses, and state and local governments.

The key to e-government rests on the ability for agencies "to get rid of redundant copies of the data" so that citizens can go to a one-stop shop to accomplish a range of tasks, Forman said. But that streamlined vision of agency access to data requires principles to ensure that personal information is not compromised and that businesses and individuals can trust the system, he added.

Forman said that in cases concerning homeland security, agencies must be able to share information in back-end operations to assess threats, for example, and that necessity may pose privacy tradeoffs.

To establish a proper balance between privacy and online service, OMB is working to establish principles for data management. The e-government initiative must make sure that the data collected is being used for its stated purpose. Means of data collection must be secure, while access to that information is maintained on a "need-to-know basis," Forman said.

And to meet those goals, OMB will continue issuing privacy management guidelines, including the requirement that all agencies submit privacy assessments of the technologies they propose to acquire. OMB also will continue to prohibit tracking technologies and will require agencies to post viable privacy policies to the Web and to appoint senior privacy officials.

Forman also cited OMB's progress on an e-authentication system, which will be the key enabler of online services. The system will ensure privacy protection by providing a "gateway" where citizens, businesses and other government agencies can obtain the proper security clearance to engage in online transactions with the federal government, he said.

"We're very committed to promoting privacy interests," Forman said. "But in the back office, integrating lines of business, you have to be able to correlate information."

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