The July issue of Communications of the ACM arrived today and as I thumbed through it, I started reading an article about the ever expanding network of local and federal databases. The article discusses the potential problems with such data linking and retells some sad tales about the abuse of such networks.
This is a tricky issue for me: my job is linking all that information! The issue of course is not a technology issue, but a public policy issue. Utah passed legislation last year to protect the privacy of data that we collect for personalization purposes on our web site. In general, however, public access to government data is at the heart of our democracy and so many are leary of any privacy safeguards for data that government controls. HIPPA is another overlay on the issue.
Richard Varn, the CIO of Iowa has thought a lot about this topic and sheds a lot of light on the issues. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers, so they'll be worked out the way we work out all hard problems in our society: in the many legislatures and courts across the land.