Tuesday, March 13, 2012

"I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead". Mark Twain

I recently spent a few days grappling with government regulations written for the public. Together with my Dad, who is in his 80's, we tried to get some answers to simple Medicare questions about prescription drugs. I almost gave up when I realized that I still had no clue, after spending hours trying to read the government's guidance. I'm a Harvard-trained lawyer, and I couldn't understand them. I looked at my Dad, and I wondered what seniors are supposed to do who are often old and sick, and might not have a Harvard-lawyer around the house to help them.

Thankfully, there's a very worthwhile initiative, to get the US Federal government to use Plain English. Indeed, I think it's worthwhile to simply quote from the government's site directly:

President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act of 2010Adobe Acrobat Reader icon on October 13, 2010. The law requires that federal agencies use "clear Government communication that the public can understand and use." On January 18, 2011, he issued a new Executive Order, "E.O. 13563 - Improving Regulation and Regulatory Review.Adobe Acrobat Reader icon" It states that "[our regulatory system] must ensure that regulations are accessible, consistent, written in plain language, and easy to understand."

And to bring it back to my blog's topic, namely, privacy, I'd encourage you to take a look at how plainlanguage.gov has drafted its own site's privacy policy. It's here.

Many government regulations aren't really drafted for normal citizens. They're drafted by and for lawyers, lobbyists, specialists, and regulators. The same is often true of privacy policies. I'm in the school that thinks that privacy policies should be drafted for the general public, and that they should look something like plainlanguage.gov's privacy policy. Even the IRS, which is not an agency generally celebrated for its brevity of its prose, managed to publish a privacy policy that is exactly 7 sentences long.

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