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Government Accountability Office, Privacy: Alternatives Exist for Enhancing Protection of Personally Identifiable Information (GAO-08-536) (May 2008) (full-text).


GAO was asked to determine whether laws and guidance consistently cover the federal government’s collection and use of personal information and incorporate key privacy principles. GAO was also asked, in doing so, to identify options for addressing these issues.

The GAO identified issues in three major areas:

  • Establishing effective mechanisms for informing the public about privacy protections. Another key privacy principle, the principle of openness, suggests that the public should be informed about privacy policies and practices. Yet, Privacy Act notices may not effectively inform the public about government uses of personal information. For example, system-of-records notices published in the Federal Register may be difficult for the general public to fully understand. Layered notices, which provide only the most important summary facts up front, have been used as a solution in the private sector. In addition, publishing such notices at a central location on the Web would help make them more accessible.