Data Access Risks

Recognizing these risks in government access to personal data, the U.S. Secretary of Defense appointed a committee to investigate and document the nature of risks in such data collection. The Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee, chaired by Newton Minow, former chair of the Federal Communications Commission, produced its report in 2004. Although initially asked to review privacy and data collection within only the Defense Department, the committee found it impossible to separate the Defense Department from the rest of government. Consequently, its descriptions apply to the Federal government as a whole.


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Among the recognized risks when government acquires data from other parties are these:

• data error: ranges from transcription errors to incorrect analysis

• inaccurate linking: two or more data items are correct but are incorrectly linked by a presumed common element

• difference of form and content: precision, accuracy, format, and semantic errors

• purposely wrong: collected from a source that intentionally provides incorrect data, such as a forged identity card or a false address given to mislead

• false accusation: an incorrect or out-of-date conclusion that the government has no data to verify or reject, for example, delinquency in paying state taxes

• mission creep: data acquired for one purpose that leads to a broader use because the data will support that mission

• poorly protected: data of questionable integrity because of the way they have been managed and handled