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Commentary: U.S. government needs a CPO

By naming a privacy officer, the government would create a central office from which to address a range of growing privacy concerns, which will intensify as e-government develops.

    By William Malik and Arabella Hallawell, Gartner Analysts

    Gartner strongly supports the notion of appointing a chief privacy officer for the U.S. federal government.

    By naming a privacy officer, the government would create a central office from which to address a range of growing privacy concerns, which will intensify as e-government develops. Citizens will access more government information through the Internet. The federal government will offer more services online, and it will link to the electronic systems of other federal agencies and governments at state and local levels to provide cooperative services and share information.

    As the government participates more deeply in the connected economy, all parties involved--including citizens and governmental employees, state and local governments, corporations and not-for-profit enterprises--will become more exposed to privacy concerns.

    Given the complexity of interactions among these groups, a federal CPO would help develop and implement sensible policies regarding appropriate levels of protection for personal information. Different privacy policies and security standards could become a major inhibitor to many intragovernmental data-sharing initiatives.

    Citizens' privacy concerns cannot be managed effectively without a dedicated office responsible for setting privacy standards, guaranteeing compliance with regulations and ensuring that departments understand how their initiatives should incorporate privacy protections. Appointing a CPO at the level of the Office of Management and Budget is critical since the OMB controls the budget for other agencies.

    See news story:
    Advocates push Bush to name privacy chief
    A federal CPO would also need to have the power to ensure that different departments and agencies comply with federal privacy policies and positions. This function is critical for the federal government as one of its primary objectives is to make government more efficient in using technology--for example, by automating physical processes and creating new ways of sharing information through the use of IT.

    Most developed nations have a privacy ombudsman to handle citizen privacy issues within the government as well as to protect personal information used by enterprises nationwide. By appointing a CPO at the OMB level, the administration of President George W. Bush would show that it recognizes the importance of privacy protection, particularly in the new economy. The federal government would become an example to state and local governments, which often have limited privacy laws, as well as to businesses that deal with the government.

    Moreover, a federal CPO would be critical to developing and implementing the privacy and security standards necessary for many e-government initiatives to succeed within the federal sector--as well as with other governments and businesses that have to interact with these systems.

    (For related commentary regarding Gartner's open letter to President George W. Bush on how the federal government should manage the technology revolution before it, see Gartner.com.)

    Entire contents, Copyright ? 2001 Gartner, Inc. All rights reserved. The information contained herein represents Gartner's initial commentary and analysis and has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Positions taken are subject to change as more information becomes available and further analysis is undertaken. Gartner disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information. Gartner shall have no liability for errors, omissions or inadequacies in the information contained herein or for interpretations thereof.