NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Federal Agencies Regularly Exchange Personal Information About Americans

May 9, 2001

More than once every other week, a federal government agency quietly announces a new plan to exchange and merge databases of personal information about American citizens. Under the "Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act," they do this routinely, systematically -- and legally, according to a report by a privacy advocacy organization called Privacilla.

Currently the Internal Revenue Service shares personal information about American citizens with state social services agencies and the Social Security Administration. The SSA also shares personal information about beneficiaries with state courts and the Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). The Department of Health and Human Services (which oversees HCFA), the Department of Education, the Postal Service, the Department of Labor, the Department of Justice and the Department of Veterans Affairs also share personal information about Americans in their databases.

  • For the 18-month period from September 1999 to February 2001, federal agencies announced 47 times that they would exchange and merge personal information from databases about American citizens.
  • The Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act, which causes agencies to report these activities in the Federal Register, applies only to a small subset of the federal agency programs that exchange and merge databases of personal information.
  • The federal government is in fact the largest collector, user, and sometime abuser of citizens' personal and private information. Governments are fundamentally not in the business of protecting privacy.

These computer matching programs demonstrate that privacy is a cost of the federal government's numerous tax, law enforcement, and benefit programs. Despite its name, the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act does not protect privacy!

Source: "Privacy and Federal Agencies: Government Exchange and Merger of Personal Information is Systematic and Routine," March 2001,


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