The bureaucratic dimensions of privacy: Personal information in public organizations

Edward Charles Sembor, Fordham University


This study focuses on the treatment of personal privacy by federal agencies in today's highly technological environment. It is argued that the collection and dissemination of personal information, facilitated by technology, has not lived up to the intent of public law on the issue of personal privacy. On examination of federal agencies' personal privacy rules, there appears to be considerable and measurable variation as to the actual amount of privacy rules, their sensitivity, and detail that appears in the agency's established rules and regulations. This finding suggests that variation in the treatment itself of personal privacy is occurring in the federal government and deserves further analysis. Utilizing the theoretical framework of organization theory, this study proposes to suggest possible explanations for the variation in the treatment of personal privacy in federal agencies. This study hypothesizes that three models of organization theory may be able to provide some explanation for the variation that occurs in this treatment. The three models tested are the Structural-bureaucratic Model, the Contextual Model, and the Environmental Model. Data for this study was collected primarily through content analysis of various government publications and documents. Using the statistical analysis technique of multiple regression, it was found that these models are poor predictors of the variation in the treatment of personal privacy. The models of context and environment do not reveal any statistically significant explanations of the observed variation. Structure is seen to have a minimal impact in the treatment of personal privacy. It is concluded that organizational theory, through the structural model, is able to explain some of the variation in a federal agency's treatment of personal privacy, but the statistics generated are weak and inconclusive. The findings presented here seem to undermine the potential for further public organization analysis and research utilizing this body of theory.

Subject Area

Public administration

Recommended Citation

Sembor, Edward Charles, "The bureaucratic dimensions of privacy: Personal information in public organizations" (1988). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI8809484.