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10/30/2002
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GAO: Government Agencies Adhering To Privacy Laws

The report addresses the flow of management information at four federal departments: Agriculture, Education, Labor, and State.

A General Accounting Office study of four agencies issued Wednesday found that they generally adhere to government privacy laws.

The General Accounting Office report, Information Management: Selected Agencies' Handling Of Personal Information, addresses the flow of management information at four federal departments: Agriculture, Education, Labor, and State. The information examined includes names, phone numbers, addresses, Social Security numbers, financial and legal data, and demographic information. The GAO says the information is provided to the government by the public for a specific purpose--to receive benefits, obtain services or loans, or participate in a specific federal program.

The report found that agencies' handling of information varies and that a wide range of government personnel have access to the information, but by and large, the agencies follow current privacy laws.

Federal agencies share personal information extensively with other agencies and with state and local governments, according to the report, increasing the risk of misuse of information and loss of privacy. Despite some violations, the report found that the four audited agencies mostly comply with existing information-management requirements. The GAO's methodology wasn't designed to find individual transgressions.

Says Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who requested the study as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, "As the federal government updates its technology so that information may be compiled and accessed more readily, we must reassure the public that its privacy will be respected and protected."

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