ACLU Applauds Republican-Sponsored Privacy Protection Bill; Measure Would Place Key Protections into Federal Law
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON – Days before the General Accounting Office is set to release a report on a controversial airline passenger data-mining program, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to adopt bipartisan legislation that would incorporate key privacy protections into the operations of federal agencies. Similar legislation had passed in the House during the previous Congress but was not addressed by the Senate.
The bill, introduced by Constitution Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot (R-OH), is titled the “Defense of Privacy Act” (HR 338) and would require federal agencies to prepare a “privacy impact statement” when they propose new regulations. It is scheduled for markup in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law today. Prior to that markup, the same subcommittee is holding a hearing on “Privacy in the Hands of the Government,” an examination of role of the Privacy Officer at the Department of Homeland Security.
“Technology has the ability to make our lives run smoother, but there is a cost – the loss of privacy – that is preventable,” said Gregory T. Nojeim, Associate Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The Chabot bill is a key step toward restoring the proper level of individual privacy in America.”
The legislation’s proposed privacy impact statements would build on the principles of Fair Information Practices into the rulemaking process and would notify the public about the choices federal agencies make about the use and disclosure of personal information. The ACLU supports the measure because it would establish basic checks and balances on federal agencies’ decisions to use and disclose individually identifiable information, and is joined in endorsing the legislation by groups like the Free Congress Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The bill is modeled on an existing law — called the “Regulatory Flexibility Act” — and would not undermine the rulemaking process or inhibit important government policy goals. For example, the proposed legislation applies only to rulemaking – the process by which agencies develop new guidelines for their operations. The vast amount of administrative action that falls outside the rulemaking process – including adjudication, informal action, and guidance – would remain unaffected.
In previous testimony, the ACLU pointed to — as a case illustrating the need for passage of the bill — a 1999 flap where the Treasure Department proposed regulations calling for the banking industry to track Americans’ routine banking practices and report them to the government. The Department was overwhelmed by almost 300,000 comments in opposition and was forced to retreat from the regulation, dubbed the “Know Your Customer” scheme.
“Our right to privacy is in peril,” Nojeim said. “This measure would place a minimal burden on federal agencies, but would have a huge impact on the privacy of all Americans. The ACLU applauds Congressman Chabot for taking the lead on this very important issue to safeguard our most personal and private information.”
The ACLU’s testimony on the “Defense of Privacy Act” can be found at:
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The latest in National Security
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About National Security
The ACLU’s National Security Project is dedicated to ensuring that U.S. national security policies and practices are consistent with the Constitution, civil liberties, and human rights.