Financial privacy – Privacy Act — The World Privacy Forum filed comments today urging the U.S. Treasury Department to obtain consumers’ consent before checking their credit reports. Consumers who participate in the government’s Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) — an Obama administration program created to help consumers renegotiate their mortgages so they can keep their homes — must allow the Federal Government to check their credit reports without first obtaining consent. This procedure sets a negative precedent, and is at odds with consumer expectations of privacy. The Treasury gave itself this power in an obscure set of “Routine Uses” in a Privacy Act notice published along with the proposed system of records for the program. The World Privacy Forum has objected to this, and has filed detailed comments with the Treasury about the lack of consumer consent. The public comment period on this program is open until September 4, 2009.
Health data breach rulemaking — The Federal Trade Commission has issued its final Health Breach Notification Rule for vendors of Personal Health Records and related entities, as required under ARRA, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The initial proposed Health Breach Notification Rule was generally thoughtful and thorough. The World Privacy Forum submitted extensive comments on the proposed rule both supporting parts of it and making some suggestions for changes. The FTC incorporated several specific WPF suggestions into the final rule. In particular, the FTC incorporated the applicability of the rule to foreign entities with U.S. customers (Final Rule p. 17), and the applicability of the rule to search engines appearing on Personal Health Record web sites (Final Rule p. 34). The new rule will be published in the Federal Register shortly; until then, it is available at the FTC web site. Also available is a form that entities covered under this rule can use to report data breaches to the FTC. The Health Breach Notification Rule will be effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, and full compliance with the rule will be required beginning 180 days after publication.
Public comments re: health data breaches — The World Privacy Forum filed comments with the Department of Health and Human Services today regarding the HITECH Act guidance that HHS published along with a request for comments. The Forum urged the Department to tighten its proposed guidance, and to add more protections, oversight, and rules for “limited data set” breaches.
Genetic Privacy | GINA — The World Privacy Forum filed comments on the proposed regulations on the Genetic Information NonDiscrimination Act, or GINA. The comments request that the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission close down several potential loopholes in consumer protection in the proposed regulations. The Forum specifically asked the EEOC to consider curtailing the amount of commercially available information employers could access about employees, for example, through marketing databases. WPF also requested that those covered under GINA be required to maintain audit trails in certain circumstances, and urged that wellness programs be structured in such a way so as to prevent information leakage through billing and other activities.
School privacy | FERPA — In May 2008 the World Privacy Forum submitted detailed comments on proposed changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act regulations (FERPA). The FERPA regulations are the rules that control how schools treat and release student information. The final FERPA regulations have now been published and reveal that the World Privacy Forum comments had a positive impact. The new regulations agreed with WPF’s comment that if a school requests a Federal tax return from a parent, that the parent has the right to redact all financial information from the form, and affirmed that the school does not have a requirement to ask for the tax form in the first place. The regulations also agreed with the WPF comment that the risk of re-identification of published student information is cumulative, and made recommendations that educational institutions take into account all releases of student information it has made, not just new releases.