ACLU Endorses Republican-Sponsored Privacy Protection Bill; Measure Would Place Key Protections into Federal Law

July 22, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Testifying before two key House subcommittees, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged Congress to adopt 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.

“”While technology continues to benefit society, it also diminishes our personal privacy,”” Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, told members of the House subcommittees. “”The potential for unwarranted snooping and accidental disclosure of deeply personal information remains high. The Chabot bill is a key step toward restoring the proper level of individual privacy in America.””

The ACLU’s Murphy testified this morning at a joint hearing on the bill before the Commercial and Administrative Law Subcommittee and the Constitution Subcommittee, both of the House Judiciary Committee. Introduced by Constitution Subcommittee Chair Steve Chabot, R-OH, the legislation, titled the “”Defense of Privacy Act”” (HR 338), would require federal agencies to prepare a “”privacy impact statement”” when they propose new regulations.

The legislation’s privacy impact statement builds the principles of Fair Information Practices into the rulemaking process and would put the public on notice about the choices federal agencies are making 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.

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 her testimony, Murphy 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,”” Murphy told the subcommittees. “”This measure would place a minimal burden on federal agencies, but would have a huge impact on the lives 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 can be found at:
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