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Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) has introduced a bill to amend the Privacy Act of 1974. The Privacy Act Modernization for the Information Age of 2011 would create a federal chief privacy officer and a government-wide Chief Privacy Officers Council. It would also overturn the Supreme Court’s decision in Doe v. Chao, “which held that an individual has to show actual damages resulted from an intentional or willful improper disclosure of personal information in order to receive an award,” according to Akaka’s remarks in the Congressional Record.

Akaka became a member of the U.S. Senate three years after the enactment of the Privacy Act of 1974. Introducing the modernization bill this week, he said the expansion of technology, increased security needs that put pressure on personal information and the growth of the data “market” prompted him to draft the update. Akaka said he consulted with privacy experts, working groups and advocates to inform the draft, and he examined the recommendations laid out in the 2008 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report “Privacy: Alternatives Exist for Enhancing Protection of Personally Identifiable Information.”

The role of a federal chief privacy officer in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has not existed since the 1990s.

Peter Swire, CIPP, who was chief of privacy in the OMB during the Clinton Administration, told the Daily Dashboard, “The most important information sharing often happens across agencies, and a federal CPO can help ensure that the interagency privacy issues are handled more effectively."

The bill’s proposal to create a government-wide Chief Privacy Officers Council would “fill wide gaps in…privacy leadership and ensure consistent development of policies and guidance on the Privacy Act across agencies,” Akaka said.

In addition, the bill would update penalties for violations of the Privacy Act, and it would “clarify Congress’s intent in the statutory damages provision in the Privacy Act by overturning Doe v. Chao, in which the Supreme Court, I believe wrongly, held that an individual has to show actual damages resulted from an intentional or willful improper disclosure of personal information in order to receive an award,” Akaka said.


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