ACLU Welcomes House Passage of Privacy Protection Bill

October 8, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Troubled by ever-increasing erosion of privacy, the American Civil Liberties Union today applauded House passage of a new bill — sponsored by an unusual right-left alliance of Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Mel Watt (D-NC) — that would incorporate key privacy protections into the activities of federal agencies.

“Just as it has brought great benefits to our society, the ever-quickening pace of technological advancement in the United States is accompanied by grave threats to our privacy,” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “If adopted by the Senate, this bill will be an effective step forward in reducing unwanted snooping and the tragic disclosure of deeply personal information.”

The bill, called the “Federal Agency Protection of Privacy Act,” passed the House of Representatives yesterday evening without dissent. As written, it would require federal agencies to prepare a “privacy impact statement” before issuing most new regulations.

The ACLU strongly supported the measure because it would require that the federal government explain to Americans how and why their personal information is to be shared or collected, force an agency to identify the protections in place against deliberate or accidental misuse of the information and require an agency to provide clear procedures for individuals to review their information and correct any errors.

As an example of why the Barr-Watt bill is necessary, the ACLU’s Corrigan pointed to a 1999 Treasury Department flap where the agency was forced to rescind a regulation calling for the banking industry to put measures in place to track Americans’ routine banking practices and report them to the government. The department was overwhelmed by over 200,000 comments in opposition and was forced to retreat from the regulation, dubbed “Know Your Customer.”

“When any large and unwieldy government body is assigned to be the steward of the personal information of millions of Americans, destructive disclosure is going to result,” Corrigan said. “This bill would help plug many of the otherwise inevitable leaks.”

ACLU Testimony on the Barr-Watt Bill can be found at:
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