Another example of a government policy on an intangible asset

Back ages ago when I worked for the Senate, I was at one time a staffer of the subcommittee dealing with government information policy [note: many subcommittee changes later, I’m not sure which subcommittee this would even be anymore]. It became very clear to me from that experience that dealing with the intangible asset of information is very tricky. For example, there is the recent case of Border’s customer lists and privacy rights (see earlier posting).
Here is an example of the complexity of the issue — a story from Federal Computer Week a couple of weeks ago — “Census bureau clarifies its position on Title 13 confidentiality for addresses.” Under Title 13 of the US Code, certain census data cannot be disclosed or shared with others, including state and local government. This includes addresses. A few weeks ago comments were made that this might be changing. Now the Census Bureau has clarified that this isn’t really happening.
The issue is one of confidentiality of the government data (which is critical to the accurate collection of that data) versus the need to share the data for it to be useful. This issue is not unique to the census data. It cuts across much of government collected data (think “tax records”) and private-sector collected data (think “customer information”). Yet our policies seem to be ad-hoc. As I’ve noted in at least 3 previous posts, we need a consistent policy that treats personal data as an intangible assets. An asset based approach would help both sides benefit from strong protection of the data – with the protection tied to the value. By looking at the use and value of the data as an intangible asset, a more nuanced and appropriate level of protection could be crafted. Current government policy — such as Title 13 does not seem to allow that. We need to re-think that policy.
Of course, when I was involved in a re-thinking of government information policy 25 years ago, we ran into a buzz-saw. Maybe the thinking process has evolved somewhat. Once can hope.

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