Picking A Meaningless Fight

It’s nice to ask, but it’s hard to imagine that OMB is going to generate anything that really sticks. After all, it’s not the Government that’s the big player in this, and there will almost certainly be nothing that will prevent the Government from buying the same information from private firms that do exactly the same collecting and are not “encumbered” by OMB guidelines: Editorial – The Government and the Web (pdf)

The Office of Management and Budget is developing the new rules. Officials say they recognize that people must be told that their use of Web sites is being tracked — and be given a chance to opt out. More is needed. The government should commit to displaying such notices prominently on all Web pages — and to making it easy for users to choose not to be tracked.

It must promise that tracking data will be used only for the purpose it was collected for: if someone orders a pamphlet on living with cancer, it should not end up in a general database. Information should be purged regularly and as quickly as possible. These rules must apply to third parties that operate on government sites.

The Obama administration is working to better harness the power of the Internet to deliver government services. That is good. But it needs to be mindful that people should be able to get help and be assured that their privacy is being vigilantly protected.