ACLU Endorses Barr Privacy Protection Bill; Measure Would Introduce Key Protections into Federal Law

April 24, 2002 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Concerned with the ever-increasing erosion of privacy in the United States, the American Civil Liberties Union today endorsed newly introduced legislation — sponsored by Reps. Bob Barr (R-GA) and Mel Watt (D-NC) — that would incorporate key privacy protections into the operations of federal agencies.

“The same technology that has brought such great benefit to this country has also opened the door to unwanted snooping and the accidental disclosure of deeply personal information,” said Katie Corrigan, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Rep. Barr has taken a key step toward restoring the proper level of individual privacy in America.”

The Barr Bill, titled the “Federal Agency Protection of Privacy Act,” would require federal agencies to prepare a “privacy impact statement” before issuing most new regulations.

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

The bill is also particularly well considered, the ACLU said, in its moderate and balanced approach to the issue. Federal agencies are not required to produce a privacy impact statement for every regulation; the bill maintains certain exceptions to agency rulemaking procedures already in current law. For example, the legislation contains a provision that would make the impact statement unnecessary if an emergency makes compliance “impracticable.”

The ACLU pointed to — as a case illustrating the need for passage of the Barr bill — 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 the “Know Your Customer” scheme.

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