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Six privacy principles to guide government

By Michael Mattmiller
Chief Technology Officer, City of Seattle

Privacy. It’s an increasingly important topic in our digital world.

When residents pay a utility bill online, call 911, renew a pet license, browse a web page, or sign up for an email list, the City of Seattle captures that information to help it deliver public services.

But does releasing certain government-held information harm or help the public? It’s an important question and the topic of Seattle Speaks: Privacy Politics, a live, televised community forum 7 p.m., Wednesday, April 22 at Town Hall Seattle. Attend in person or watch live on Seattle Channel cable 21 or online. Seattle Speaks is presented by Seattle Channel, Seattle CityClub and Town Hall.

Update: Here’s video of Seattle Speaks: Privacy Politics.

I will join privacy advocates, government, public-safety and technology leaders in the conversation and plan to discuss the city’s privacy initiative, which aims to provide greater transparency into the city’s data collection and use practices. Seattle is one of the only cities in the world to establish a privacy initiative like this.

The City takes privacy seriously and seeks to build the public’s trust in our data collection and handling practices. At the same time, making information about government operations available is core to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government. Data can provide valuable information to innovators and the public. Yet as more government data sets become available, concerns over threats to personal privacy rise.

There are already 300 data sets available at It’s my hope people and business can tap the data to figure out ways to use the information to benefit the city. Meanwhile, as public stewards of information, we must balance protecting the privacy rights of residents while providing open and transparent access to government information.

The privacy initiative will help us strike this balance. As part of the initiative, the City recently adopted six privacy principles, which will guide the actions we will take when collecting and using information from the public:

  1. We value your privacy…
    Keeping your personal information private is very important. We consider potential risks to your privacy and the public’s well-being before collecting, using and disclosing your personal information.
  1. We collect and keep only what we need…
    We only collect information that we need to deliver City services and keep it as long as we are legally required and to deliver those services. Whenever possible, we tell you when we are collecting this information.
  1. How we use your information….
    When possible, we make available information about the ways we use your personal information at the time we collect it. We commit to giving you a choice whenever possible about how we use your information.
  1. We are accountable…
    We are responsible for managing your personal information in a manner that is consistent with our commitments and as required by law. We protect your personal information by restricting unauthorized access and by securing our computing resources from threats.
  1. How we share your information…
    We follow federal and state laws about information disclosure whenever we work with outside governmental agencies and in answering public disclosure requests. Business partners and contracted vendors who receive or collect personal information from us or for us to deliver City services must agree to our privacy requirements.
  1. Accuracy is important…
    We work to maintain and use accurate personal information for City business. When practical, we will work to correct inaccurate personal information. We also direct our partners and contracted vendors to follow the same guidelines.