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Gov't Proposes Massive Homeless Tracking System 808

Chris Hoofnagle writes "The Dept. of Housing and Urban Development is proposing a massive system of tracking for homeless people and others who are served by shelters and care centers. The system will track people by their SSN, and will collect health (HIV, pregnancy) and mental information. Secret Service and national security agents can gain access to the database by just asking for it! EPIC has released a fact sheet on HMIS, and the public can comment on the guidelines until September 22, 2003, but no electronic comments are being accepted."
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Gov't Proposes Massive Homeless Tracking System

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  • Re:1984 (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:22PM (#6736877)
    In the book 1984 the homeless are free to do what they want pretty much so your point is incorrect.
  • by TopShelf ( 92521 ) * on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:31PM (#6737018) Homepage Journal
    Believe it or not, but there is actually some beneficial purpose to this endeavor. For instance (from HUD's document):

    "An HMIS offers many benefits to persons seeking and receiving homeless assistance services. Homeless clients can benefit from more effective and streamlined referrals from on-line information and referral and service directories. Clients can benefit from enhanced intra-agency coordination. For example, advanced HMIS software has been developed that both calculates client eligibility for multiple programs and generates ready-to-sign applications for those programs."

    This is a GOOD thing. I suppose the alternative is to maintain "privacy by obscurity" through a lack of coordination and reliance on manual processes to determine eligibility and prepare applications? Yeesh...
  • Re:What a crock (Score:3, Informative)

    by IthnkImParanoid ( 410494 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @04:56PM (#6737347)
    I say it's a troll/joke (it's also moderated funny). If you consider the one line, no thought process, AOL type response and it's contrast to Michael's mini-editorial rant style of news-posting (not this one, but in general), it's clearly designed to provoke a reaction, not engage discussion.

    I would have modded it funny, myself.
  • Re:What a crock (Score:2, Informative)

    by RallyNick ( 577728 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @05:04PM (#6737434)
    Where is the invasion of privacy if the Secret Service know a homeless person collected food from this shelter on Monday AND got soup from a different shelter cross town on Wednesday?

    The invasion of privacy is right there. It's not the secret service bussiness to know where I eat.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @06:01PM (#6738317)
    Government Information Awareness [mit.edu]


    To empower citizens by providing a single, comprehensive, easy-to-use repository of information on individuals, organizations, and corporations related to the government of the United States of America.

    To allow citizens to submit intelligence about government-related issues, while maintaining their anonymity. To allow members of the government a chance to participate in the process.
  • by chawry ( 699690 ) on Tuesday August 19, 2003 @09:40PM (#6740091)
    I'm sorry, but the title and implication of this posting are just dead wrong sensationalism. The federal government is absolutely not trying to create a massive homeless tracking system. HUD is very clear about this, and my daily work on HMIS issues, as a nonprofit consultant to homeless providers, has made me quite confident that HMIS is not a scary Orwelian tactic to disenfranchize the poor, but a valuable tool that can be used to help end homelessness in America.

    The truth about HMIS:
    1. The goal of HMIS is not to create a "massive homeless tracking system" but to obtain statistical and demographic data about homeless people to inform federal homeless policy. The aggregate and anonymous data HUD wants is vitally necessary to the goal of ending homelessness.
    2. The federal HUD office has never expressed any interest whatsoever in collecting client-level data about homeless people on a federal scale. I have written and oral confirmation of this from senior-level policy makers in HUD's DC office. The way HUD has chosen to implement HMIS, by creating an unfunded mandate devolving the ownership, development, and management of HMIS data to local governments, will make it very difficult, if not impossible, for the federal government to collect identifiable client data without a court order.
    3. HUD wants aggregate, de-identified information about the number of homeless people, their patterns of service usage, their income sources, and the causes and duration of their homelessness. This data is simply necessary to the formation of sound homeless policy, and it does not currently exist. They don't care who is homeless, they just want to know why, so that they can address the underlying causes of homelessness. Having also worked for HUD, I can say with confidence that they have neither the time, the motivation, nor the budget to do anything useful with a nationwide homeless tracking system. HMIS is for policy analysis.
    4. Clients must be informed that their information is being collected, have access to said information, and have the ability to correct errors. Establishment of consent/assent will vary by locality, though many communities in my area plan to require the written consent of their clients to enter their personal data into an HMIS.
    5. Local Continuums of Care [hud.gov] have full control over the data they collect, how the information is used, and who can access it. Generally, written MOUs are required between any data-sharing organizations, carefully delineating what information is to be shared, who can access it, and for what purposes it may be used. This includes law enforcement agencies; as Chapter 4 of the Draft Data Standards [hud.gov] clearly states, "An HMIS user or developer may... disclose protected information for a law enforcement purpose to a law enforcement official... A court order or search warrant may be required for the disclosure of information about an individual in an HMIS." In essence, the accessibility of information by law enforcement will be determined by local HMIS policy.
    6. HMIS systems must be fully compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 [hipaa.org], which creates very strong privacy safeguards concerning the sharing of personal information.
    7. Participation in HMIS is only required of agencies receiving federal funding. If they don't like, they can find money elsewhere.
    8. There is a huge need for accurate information about the homeless population, which simply cannot be generated without an HMIS. Some of the policy goals:
      • Produce an accurate, unduplicated count of homeless people so that progress can be accurately measured. I can tell you from personal experience that many communities don't really know how many homeless people they have, and that they often

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