ACLU Welcomes Privacy Legislation Aimed at Limiting Government Access to Databases Containing Our Most Private Information

July 29, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today joined with a diverse coalition of organizations in welcoming the introduction of legislation aimed at limiting data mining by government agencies. The “”Citizens’ Protection in Federal Databases Act of 2003,”” introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), seeks to protect privacy for all Americans by holding the government responsible for access to private and public databases.

“”Many Americans are deeply concerned that the government can fish through databases containing some of our most sensitive information without telling us,”” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. “”Our most personal and private information deserve the most protection; programs that ease access to that information demand the strictest scrutiny.””

At a news conference held today by Senator Wyden, the ACLU joined with Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Free Congress Foundation and People for the American Way in voicing support for the legislation. Under current law, there are no regulations of government access to databases – either public or private.

Senator Wyden’s bill would require the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, the Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to submit to Congress a report detailing the use of databases for law enforcement or intelligence purposes. The bill would also prohibit those agencies from accessing records simply on a hypothetical scenario of who may commit a crime or pose a threat to national security. This prohibition would prevent government agencies from trolling through bank records, online purchases and travel plans without regard to actual intelligence or law enforcement information.

The legislation was drafted as a response to the Department of Defense’s “”Terrorism Information Awareness”” program. Earlier this year, Congress adopted a measure offered by Senator Wyden that required the Defense Department to report on the TIA Program. Some in Congress have claimed that the report failed to properly address the privacy concerns with the program (which was previously called “”Total Information Awareness.””)

In recent weeks, Congress has acted to limit the ability of the government to pursue various data surveillance programs. The Senate, when it considered the appropriations bill for the military, blocked funding for the TIA program on a unanimous vote. The House had included provisions that prohibited the use of TIA against American citizens. That legislation is now awaiting approval by a conference committee.

“”There is broad agreement across the political spectrum that we must not allow America to turn into a surveillance society,”” Murphy added. “”Data surveillance programs inevitably erode our privacy, without demonstrating that doing so makes us any safer.””

The ACLU’s statement can be found at:

More on the ACLU’s concerns with government surveillance can be found at:

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