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E-Gov Stalls Over Data Privacy Amendment

December 11, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

Andrew Noyes at Congress Daily reports today that the E-Government Reauthorization Act of 2007 is basically dead in the Senate for the time being. The bill would provide new funding for an expired initiative designed to make it easier for the public to find government information on the internet. It has the support of President Bush and most members of Congress, but a dispute over an amendment that was added during the Judiciary Committee’s markup of the bill seems to have spelled its death:

>An amendment by Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy [pictured at right] to include new privacy protections has caused much of the discontent. His language was accepted by the bill’s sponsors and the Bush administration.
>It would require federal agencies to conduct privacy impact assessments before using outside contractors to manage personal information. At the time, Leahy said his amendment took a “small but important step” to address the growing problem of lax data security practices by government contractors.
>One GOP aide said Leahy’s amendment is “very controversial and really needs to be the subject of some hearings or other process before it is considered.”
>The staffer argued the amendment is unrelated to the e-government reauthorization itself, which has no Republican detractors. Leahy seems willing to sink the reauthorization if his amendment is not added, the aide said, noting that “he has taken a hostage, and has expressed a willingness to shoot it.”
>But a Democratic staffer insisted Leahy’s text, which was drawn from a separate data privacy bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., was the result of consultations with OMB, Collins, and Lieberman.

More information on the amendment can be found at Leahy’s Senate website. And here’s the larger data privacy bill that it was drawn from: Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2007"

Coincidentally, this news of the e-gov bill’s apparent death comes on the same day that the Washington Post published a story outlining Google’s ongoing crusade to get the government to post information online in a way that lets it get picked up by search engines:

>"The vast majority of information is still not searchable or findable either because it’s not published or it’s on Web sites which the government has put up which no one can index," Google chief executive Eric Schmidt said during a recent presentation at the New America Foundation.
>"Unfortunately, too much of the public information provided on government Web sites just doesn’t show up when the average American does a Google search," said J.L. Needham, Google’s manager of public-sector content partnerships. “As a result, information that is intended for the public’s use is effectively invisible.”

The WaPo article points that there are people in government who want this fixed. But as Francisco Camacho of the Web services division of the Smithsonian said, “with limited resources as always, it’s a little bit hard.” Too bad Congress couldn’t get that bill passed.

(h/t John Wonderlich)

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