Studies of Welfare Populations: Data Collection and Research Issues. Data Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1998

06/01/2002

In response to concerns about computer matching and perceived attempts by government agencies to circumvent the Privacy Act, Congress passed the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (and amendments to this new Act in 1990). Although no new standard is established by this Act, it creates procedural requirements for agencies that engage in computer matching. Matching agreement contracts are required between source and recipient agencies in a data-sharing program. The agreement must specify the purpose, justification, and procedures for the intended matching program. Although there are no criteria for determining when matching is appropriate, these agreements do provide notice and regulate the behavior of each party to the agreement. Matching agreements must describe the procedure by which applicants and recipients of federal assistance will be notified that information they provide may be subject to verification via a matching program. In addition, there must be procedures for verification and the opportunity of data subjects to contest findings.

The Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act also adds new oversight provisions to the Privacy Act. Specifically, Data Integrity Boards are required for federal agencies that are involved in computer matching activities. These boards, composed of senior agency officials, have responsibility for reviewing matching agreements and programs for compliance with federal privacy laws. They also serve a clearinghouse and reporting function.

These acts and practices create a regulatory framework for the collection and use of data. For researchers, there are exemptions from requiring informed consent in which recipients did not give their consent when the data were collected initially. Agencies, for example, can forego informed consent when the use of the data is compatible with the purposes for which the information was collected and when the agency provides notice of its intentions in the Federal Register. They can also use data when the data will be used solely as a statistical record and will be transferred in a form that is not individually identifiable. In most cases, these procedures were not designed specifically to facilitate research, but they have been used for that purpose.

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