Financial Privacy Statement, Nadine Strossen, President, ACLU

October 13, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU, Eagle Forum and Ralph Nader Agree:
21st Century Privacy Problems
Require 21st Century Privacy Protections
Statement of Nadine Strossen, President
American Civil Liberties Union

Wednesday, October 13, 1999

WASHINGTON–I’m delighted to be here this morning, standing arm and arm with Phyllis Schlafly and Ralph Nader as part of this extraordinary coalition — to head off legislation that would, in effect, require all customers of financial institutions to forfeit our cherished privacy rights.

Last month, the Wall Street Journal surveyed Americans to learn our biggest concerns in the coming millenium. Topping the list was not crime, not terrorism, not global war. Rather, the greatest fear we Americans have, as we face the new millenium, is losing our privacy.

And frankly, I can’t think of any other issue that would bring the Eagle Forum together with the ACLU and Ralph Nader. Preserving privacy resonates across the political spectrum and across the country.

As early as next week, the House and Senate will take a final vote on legislation that would allow banks, insurance companies and mutual funds to affiliate with each other and to share data across what used to be a corporate divide. When the walls between these corporations are removed, the privacy that those walls provided must still be preserved.

The information that could be shared is some of the most deeply personal. If I have to tell my insurance company about a potentially life threatening condition to get a claim paid, I shouldn’t have to worry that my bank will learn about that condition and turn down my mortgage application.

So Phyllis, Ralph and I applaud the efforts of Senators Shelby and Bryan, and Rep. Markey to strengthen customers’ privacy protection.

We’re not asking for the moon. Only that the financial services industry honor basic, time-tested principles of fair information practices. They should have to tell customers what information they are collecting and for what purpose, give us access to that information to ensure its accuracy, and get our consent before disclosing it to others or using it for other purposes.

And Congress must not strip states of the right to give their residents stronger privacy protections.

Congress should not preempt state financial privacy laws. Rather, it should supplement them, setting a privacy floor, not a ceiling.

Just last week, the President signed into law a bill that will return to drivers control over the personal information we must give to get a drivers license — photos, Social Security numbers and medical information. We supported Senator Shelby’s efforts to secure these protections.

Now, the stakes are even higher. The type of information at stake — financial — is much more personal. And the costs of nonprotection are much higher — including denial of essential financial services.

When our country was founded in the 18th century, all of our most personal information was in our homes. If outsiders had some of this, it was in scattered bits and pieces that were hard to collate. Now, though, computer databases are linked with a common identifier — our Social Security numbers — to track all of our transactions. In mere moments, the most intimate details of our lives are pulled together into detailed personal profiles.

These 21st century privacy problems call for 21st century privacy protections. We’ve come together today to ask Congress to take a first small step toward that essential goal.

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