Governance & Risk Management , Privacy

Congress Unlikely to Reform Privacy Act

Groundswell of Support Never Materialized to Revise 35-Year-Old Law
Congress Unlikely to Reform Privacy Act
If Dan Chenok were a bookmaker, he'd make enactment of Privacy Act reform a long shot, at least for the foreseeable future.

"The odds privacy legislation would be enacted next session are not high," says Chenok, who backs Privacy Act reform as chairman of the government's Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board, which recommended last spring revisions to the Privacy Act in a report entitled Toward A 21st Century Framework for Federal Government Privacy Policy.

Trevor Hughes, executive director of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, agrees that it's unlikely Congress would pass sweeping privacy legislation anytime soon. "As to a broad, federal privacy bill that's a really heavy lift, I think, for Congress. And, as we all know, Congress is a bit focused on the financial crisis and healthcare. Certainly through the remainder of 2009, it's unlikely we'll see broad-based privacy legislation emerge," Hughes says in an interview with the Information Security Media Group, parent of

The Privacy Act was enacted 35 years ago, when the precursor of the Internet was a mere babe used by a select few university research scientists and military strategists, and decades before multimedia bells and whistles were added to make it today's primary communications channel for individuals, businesses and government.

The advisory board's report points out that new technologies not covered by the decades-year-old Privacy Act generate new questions and concerns, such as the federal government's failure to provide guidance on technologies that allow civilian agencies to track individuals and retain data about them by default.

Hopes had been high earlier this year that legislation to reform the Privacy Act would be introduced by the fall. The Center for Democracy and Technology established a wiki to let interested parties help draft a Privacy Act reform bill. But a groundswell of support for such legislation never materialized.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, the Hawaiian Democrat who chairs a subcommittee with oversight over federal privacy policy, has expressed interest in revising the Privacy Act, but no legislation has been introduced. "There isn't a lot of other recent legislative groundwork in this arena," Chenok says.

Potential legislation revising the Privacy Act could be merged into an omnibus cybersecurity bill Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Connecticut Independent who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, plans to introduce later this year or early 2010, though Chenok believes it's unlikely that the privacy provisions would make it into that measure.

Hughes could envision passage of privacy legislation narrowly focused on the Internet, but remained skeptical about a wide-reaching privacy law. "The crystal ball is pretty cloudy on that," Hughes says. "It is a little unclear whether something like that would gain traction."

-- with Tom Field

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About the Author

Eric Chabrow

Eric Chabrow

Retired Executive Editor, GovInfoSecurity

Chabrow, who retired at the end of 2017, hosted and produced the semi-weekly podcast ISMG Security Report and oversaw ISMG's GovInfoSecurity and InfoRiskToday. He's a veteran multimedia journalist who has covered information technology, government and business.

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